As of 31 December, 44 million people – around three quarters of England – are now living under Tier 4 restrictions.
This is due to a continuous rise in coronavirus cases, despite the roll out of both the Pfizer and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
So could we see a further tightening of restrictions, and what would the rules be in a Tier 5 lockdown?
This is what we know so far.
What is the likelihood of Tier 5 being introduced?
Following the tightening of restrictions for over 20 millions England residents on New Year’s Eve, from Tier 3 to Tier 4, Boris Johnson said on January 3 that things are"probably about to get tougher". The PM is set to make an announcement on 4 January at 8pm.
It follows Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement today (4 January) that people in Scotland should stay at home except for essential purposes until the end of January, following a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.
The whole of mainland Scotland remains under Tier 4 restrictions, while the islands remain in Tier 3. No new Tier 5 was introduced in Scotland despite previous speculation.
Experts have been urging Johnson to tighten restrictions as pressure mounts on hospitals and A&E departments. President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Dr Katherine Henderson told BBC Breakfast on 27 December: “The chances are that we will cope, but we cope at a cost - the cost is not doing what we had hoped, which is being able to keep non-Covid activities going.
“It is always challenging in winter, nobody would say that it wasn't, but at the moment the level of patient need is incredibly high.”
What restrictions would be in place under a possible Tier 5?
While there has been no official mapping out of a Tier 5 - currently the highest official tier is level 4 - there are restrictions that we lived under back in March which have not yet been applied to this lockdown.
In Tier 4, schools can remain open, you are not limited to how many hours a day you can spend outside, and no one is being asked to shield.
Therefore, we could see a return to:
- School closures and online learning.
- A one hour allowance of exercise each day.
- Only being allowed to leave your home to shop for necessities such as food and medical supplies.
- Travelling to second homes or holiday homes was also forbidden and hotels were closed.
This would be in addition to Tier 4 measures, which are:
- Only leaving home for essential journeys such as to school and work which cannot be done at home.
- Non-essential retail and beauty salons/hairdressers closed.
- Indoor entertainment venues closed.
- All indoor sports halls, gyms, and swimming pools closed.
- No social gatherings indoors unless they are with a member of your bubble.
- Only meeting one person in an outdoor public space if you are both alone.
- No travel into tiers which are above the tier you live in - Tier 4 residents cannot travel outside their local authority or abroad.
- Weddings and civil partnerships are banned except in exceptional circumstances.
Is it likely schools will close?
While most schools in Scotland will remain closed until 1 February under Sturgeon’s fresh lockdown rules, as it stands currently, schoolchildren in England are expected to return to school between 4 January and 18 January, despite calls from teaching unions and some councils.
However, it’s expected that Johnson will make a u-turn on this advice when he makes his announcement tonight, with schools expected to close again for most pupils.