Merry Christmas and a Happy New Tier

At midnight, areas of England, including all 32 boroughs of London, moved into the brand-new Tier 4, akin to a local lockdown. This won’t have come as a shock for many, as we have watched Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy move into country-wide Christmas lockdowns this week. It is, however, a U-turn from Boris Johnson’s promise of a “merry little Christmas” just three days ago, when new Tier 3 areas were introduced. Many wonder: is it too little, too late?

Due to growing coronavirus figures across the South and South East of England, Boris Johnson yesterday gave these areas less than 12 hours notice before moving them into Tier 4. But what, exactly, has changed for these areas and for the rest of the country?

What areas of England are being placed into Tier 4?

  • All 32 London boroughs and the City of London.
  • Buckinghamshire
  • Berkshire
  • Kent
  • Surrey (excluding Waverley)
  • Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings
  • Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough
  • Hertfordshire
  • Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring)

What has changed from Tier 3 to Tier 4?

Tier 4 restrictions hark back to the message from March: stay home. Work from home, if you can. If you can brave the cold, you can exercise outside with your bubble or with ONE person from another household in a public, outdoor space.

Non-essential shops are closed, as are personal care services such as hairdressers and tattooists. Private businesses and gyms are also closed.

It is recommended that there is no travel in or out of Tier 4 areas, including international travel, unless completely necessary for work or education.

What does this mean for Christmas in England?

Someone tell the Grinch – Christmas is cancelled. People in Tier 4 areas cannot mix with anyone outside of their household, excluding support and childcare bubbles (more on this later).

In Tiers 1, 2 and 3, the five-day relaxation period has now been reduced to Christmas Day only and only between three households. This means no staying over, and it is highly advised to stay as local as possible. As CMO Chris Whitty eloquently, but not perhaps empathetically, said yesterday, “If you’ve packed your bags for Christmas – unpack them.”

What does this mean for bubbles?

In Tier 4, support and childcare bubbles can still meet. Support bubbles cannot change – this must be one person living on their own (or, one single adult and a child or children under the age of 18) and one household forming one “bubble”. Children of separated parents can still visit both parents.

So: even in Tier 4, you can leave your home to meet with your support bubble. According to the gov.org website, this includes travelling in and out of Tier 4 areas. This will mean a lot for people living on their own; please remember you don’t have to be on your own for Christmas.

For Christmas Day, your bubble will count as one household. In Tiers 1 to 3 in England, this means that you can create a Christmas bubble with two other households.

When will the restrictions be reviewed?

The rules are set to be reviewed on the 30th December.

What are the rules for Wales?

Wales has entered another national lockdown at midnight last night, brought forward from the planned date of 28th December.

As in England, the Christmas relaxation period is now limited to Christmas Day. Unlike England, however, this is limited to indoor mixing with one other household only. First Minister Mark Drakeford said, “While we all want to avoid further disruption to businesses and plans for Christmas, our overriding duty is to protect lives here in Wales.”

What are the rules in Scotland?

From one minute past midnight on Boxing Day, mainland Scotland will be put into Tier 4, with island communities placed into Tier 3.

As in Wales, the rules are relaxed on Christmas Day and your Christmas bubble is restricted to two households. Nicola Sturgeon has also announced a cross-border travel ban throughout the festive period.

What are the rules in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland are set to enter a six-week lockdown beginning at 00:01 on Boxing Day. Unlike the rest of the UK, people in Northern Ireland can meet with their Christmas bubbles, which includes up to three households, between 23rd and 27th December. There is also a day either side (22nd and 28th) to allow for travel outside of Northern Ireland.

The main question – why the changes?

Prime Minister Johnson attributes his U-turn on Christmas rules to the “new variant of the virus“. CMO Chris Whitty explained that “the UK has identified a new variant of Covid-19 through Public Health England’s genomic surveillance… NERVTAG now consider that the new strain can spread more quickly” and is more prevalent in these high-tier areas.

The Prime Minister has also been under pressure from medical professionals, such as the British Medical Journal, to retract the Christmas relaxations, stating that it will “overwhelm services”. Coronavirus cases have risen by 42%, an unsustainable figure that, unfortunately, means that the mixing of households over the full five days could result in irrevocable damage to the NHS and other emergency services during an already busy period.

What now?

My plea to you, reader, is this: be kind. Be considerate. Check in on your friends who are living on their own, or in toxic family environments. Think of those with long-distance significant others. Think of children without their parents, parents without their children. Isolate if you have symptoms; please don’t put vulnerable family members at risk. Be respectful of those who have celebrated Eid, Diwali, and Hanukah exempt from any relaxation of the rules.

This is likely to be one of the most disrupted holiday seasons of our lifetime. We’re not out of the woods yet. Sometimes, it seems as though the trees are too thick to even see the sunlight through (and isn’t that a metaphor?) So, be kind to others and try to make this time a little easier.

From all of us here at Hysteria, please never hesitate to reach out. My personal twitter handle is @CassidyHarvard and I welcome any and all DMs, even if you just want someone to talk to or send you videos of unlikely animals becoming friends. We may be apart, but we’re in this together.

For more information, please see the following links:

Tier 4 Rules
Information on financial support over the holidays
Crisis.org for information on homelessness and how you can help
Samaritans and mental health support

Guidance on Christmas bubbles for:
England
Wales
Scotland
Northern Ireland

Image courtesy of Zane Lee.

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