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Lockdown latest: Wales to enter ‘firebreak’ lockdown from Friday

Everything but essential retail will close until 9 November, First Minister of Wales announces

Lockdown latest: Wales to enter ‘firebreak’ lockdown from Friday

Wales is set to face tougher restrictions than anywhere else in the UK under a 17-day ‘firebreak’ lockdown starting on Friday 23 October.

First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford announced today (19 October) that everything but essential retail will close for the period and gatherings between different households will be banned with some exceptions.

The announcement comes after leaders from Scotland, England and Northern Ireland all announced new measures to tackle rising coronavirus cases in previous days.

Here, Which? explains the new rules in more detail and reveals what is and isn’t open across the UK.

What is the ‘firebreak’ in Wales?

Also referred to as a ‘circuit breaker’, the basic idea of the firebreak is that a strict temporary lockdown will drive COVID-19 cases down enough to avoid the need for a longer, perhaps indefinite, lockdown in the future.

The Welsh firebreak is set to run from Friday 23 October until Sunday 8 November inclusive.

The concept of a circuit breaker has been adopted in Northern Ireland and Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for one in England, although the Prime Minister Boris Johnson is so far sticking to a tiered regional approach.

In Wales, the firebreak means the following business types will be closing for 17 days from 23 October:

  • Pubs, cafés and restaurants (except for takeaway and delivery)
  • Non-essential retailers (ie those that don’t sell groceries)
  • Community centres and libraries
  • Hairdressers and beauticians
  • Tourism businesses (such as hotels)

The first week of the lockdown coincides with the half-term holidays, so schools would have been closed anyway. When term time resumes, primary schools and childcare settings will remain open, but secondary schools will switch to online learning only, except for years seven and eight who will be able to attend in person.

Meeting people you don’t live with will not be permitted, inside or outside. Gatherings for Halloween and Bonfire Night can’t go ahead.

Single parents and adults living alone will be able to create a bubble with one other household for support.

The ‘stay-at-home’ advice from the last national lockdown will once again be in place, with people only allowed to leave their homes for ‘essential’ reasons and exercise.

A new set of rules is due to be introduced for after the firebreak ends.

How does the new three-tier system work in England?

Areas in England now have a ‘medium’, ‘high’ or ‘very high’ alert level, each with a corresponding suite of lockdown restrictions.

You can search for your area’s alert level on gov.uk and on the NHS COVID-19 app.

At the moment, Lancashire and the Liverpool City region are the only areas under Tier 3 ‘ultra high alert’ restrictions. Several areas, including London, Essex and York are under Tier 2 (the BBC has a list of every area under Tiers 2 and 3).

As for what these levels mean, the full details are available on this government webpage, but here’s a summary:

Tier 1/Medium alert

The current rules most of England has been under since September still apply here. So the ‘rule of six’ for socialising is still in place, as is the 10pm hospitality curfew. Face coverings are mandatory in many circumstances.

Tier 2/High alert

All Tier 1 restrictions apply, but no indoor socialising with other households is permitted, whether in a private home, a pub or restaurant.

Tier 3/Ultra high alert

All Tier 1 and 2 restrictions apply, but pubs and bars must close unless they ‘operate as if they were a restaurant’, which means serving ‘substantial’ meals (such as lunches and dinners). Alcohol can only be served as part of these meals.

Overnight stays are to be avoided, as is leaving the Tier 3 area.

This has been called the ‘baseline’ package of measures for Tier 3 areas. Additional restrictions could also be enacted, including closing gyms, public buildings (such as libraries) and performing arts venues. Close-contact beauty services could either close or have high-risk activities prohibited.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned that the ‘ultra high alert’ base-level restrictions ‘will not be sufficient’ and that additional measures would have to be taken to tackle the virus.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a Job Support Scheme that will pay two thirds of workers’ wages if their workplaces are closed by local measures.

What are the new rules in Northern Ireland?

Northern Ireland’s government announced a series of new restrictions last week.

Schools will be closed until at least 2 November, when their closure will be reviewed.

The following rules are now in place:

  • The hospitality sector is closed apart from deliveries and takeaways for food, with the existing closing time of 11pm remaining
  • Other takeaway premises must also close at 11pm
  • No more than 10 people from two households allowed in a ‘bubble’
  • No overnight stays in a private home unless in a bubble
  • Close-contact services such as hairdressers and beauticians are not permitted to open, apart from those needed for essential health interventions and therapeutics
  • No indoor sport of any kind or organised contact sport involving household mixing other than at elite level
  • No mass events involving more than 15 people (except for allowed outdoor sporting events where the relevant number will continue to apply)
  • In addition, people are being advised to work from home if they’re able to do so and ‘distanced learning’ is to be applied for universities to the maximum extent possible with only essential face-to-face learning, and no unnecessary travel.

Shops and gyms can remain open, as can places of worship (as long as face coverings are worn); funerals and commitals are limited to 25 people with no pre or post-funeral gatherings.

Wedding ceremonies and civil partnerships are limited to 25 people with no receptions.

What are the rules in Scotland?

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon divided Scotland into two parts, with central Scotland put under stricter measures. She says £40m has been set aside to support businesses affected by the restrictions.

Central Belt rules

Pubs, restaurants and licensed cafés in five Scottish health board areas – Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley – are shut to all but takeaway customers for more than two weeks starting from Friday 9 October.

Hotels continue to operate for guests only but are not permitted to serve alcohol.

Cafés that don’t have an alcohol licence can stay open until 6pm to support those who might suffer from social isolation.

Snooker and pool halls, indoor bowling alleys, casinos and bingo halls are also closed for two weeks from Saturday 10 October.

Rules for the rest of Scotland

For people living in or visiting other areas of Scotland the rules are less strict.

Indoor pubs, restaurants and cafés are only allowed to open indoors between 6am and 6pm for food and non-alcoholic drinks. Outdoors, they can continue to serve food and alcohol until 10pm.

Hotel restaurants will be able to operate beyond 6pm, but only for residents and with no alcohol.

Alcohol can continue to be sold at weddings and funerals, where current restrictions on group size still apply.

What about travel and holidays?

One of the most confusing elements of the new rules is what people can do if they want to cancel their holiday arrangements.

People living in the five health boards of the Central Belt have been asked to avoid non-essential journeys on public transport. Similarly, people under England’s Tier 3 measures are not advised to leave their areas. 

As this is just guidance from the government rather than legislation, it’s likely to make getting a refund for flights and accommodation more difficult.

In Wales, all but essential travel is against the rules. The government advises those with holidays booked to contact their travel providers and insurers to discuss refunds.

Test and Trace, and face covering rules

Pubs and restaurants in England are now required by law to collect customers’ contact details to help support NHS Test and Trace.

In Scotland, it’s also compulsory for hospitality businesses to collect contact information to help the NHS Scotland Test and Protect service.

Hospitality businesses in England and Scotland now all have to operate on a table-service-only basis. This will also be the case in Wales until Friday, when venues will have to close except for takeaway.

Members of staff in pubs and restaurants are required to wear masks in England and Scotland, as are customers unless seated at a table.

The Scottish Government has also announced the introduction of regulations to extend the use of face coverings in indoor communal areas.

The ‘rule of six’

For areas under every alert level, no more than six people are permitted to meet in England – inside or outside. The six can still come from multiple households. There is a list of exemptions to this law.

The rule was tightened in Scotland on 23 September; people now aren’t allowed to visit other households inside their homes, with some exceptions. Groups of six from two households can still meet in public places, however, with those under 12 years old not counting towards the total.

Young people aged 12 to 18 are able to meet in groups of six from any number of households (up to six).

Households will not be permitted to mix at all in Wales during the firebreak period.

Wales still has the ‘rule of six’ in place, too, but household meetings have not been banned. However, all six must come from an ‘extended household’ of up to four households. Children under the age of 11 don’t count towards the total.

In Northern Ireland, up to 15 people can still meet in public, but indoor meetings in people’s houses aren’t allowed (unless in a ‘bubble’ of up to 10) and only six people from two households can meet in private gardens.

Does the rule of six apply in pubs and restaurants?

  • Where are they open? England and Scotland (minus Central Belt)

Although many spent the summer enjoying (often discounted) dinner and drinks out with groups of family and friends, this hasnow been restricted.

In Northern Ireland, Scotland’s Central Belt, and soon in Wales, pubs, bars and restaurants are closed. Tier 3 in England requires pubs to close, but not restaurants.

Where they are open, you aren’t allowed to meet in groups of more than six at a pub or restaurant unless you’re all part of the same household.

Six people can still meet inside a pub in Tier 1 areas of England, but meeting inside isn’t permitted anywhere else. The rule of six still applies to outdoor pub and restaurant meetings in Tier 2 areas.

Where are beauty salons open?

  • Where are they open? England and Scotland

Beauty parlours reopened across the whole of the UK in the summer. However, they have to close again under Northern Ireland and Wales’ latest firebreak lockdown restrictions.

They’re still open in England and Scotland, but in some Tier 3 areas of England they could be closed.

hairdressers set up for social distancing

Where are gyms, pools and leisure centres open?

  • Where are they open? England, Northern Ireland and Scotland

Gyms have been open since July across most of the UK. Scotland was the last to the party, dusting off its treadmills on 31 August. However, the new Welsh lockdown will close all but outdoor gyms.

In England, Tier 3 restrictions don’t automatically require gyms to close, but the government and local leaders can agree to close them if they feel it’s needed. This was evidenced when Lancashire entered Tier 3 without having to close gyms, even though they are closed in Liverpool.

Where they are open, operators have been advised to use timed booking systems, limit numbers, and encourage showering and changing at home, although changing rooms are allowed to be open.

When will cinemas, theatres and music venues reopen?

  • Where are they open? England and Scotland

Cinemas are open in England and Scotland; outdoor performances allowed in Scotland; indoor and outdoor music venues and theatres are open in England, but outdoor venues are preferred.

They are however closed in Northern Ireland, and will be closed under the Welsh firebreak lockdown.

Cinemas and theatres are not mentioned specifically on the UK government’s Tier 3 guidance webpage, although closing performing arts venues is listed as an additional measure that could be applied in the worst-hit areas.

Northern Ireland previously set an ‘indicative date’ of 1 September for reopening theatres, but this has been delayed indefinitely.

Scotland had initially pushed back its opening date for indoor performances by three weeks to 5 October. With the new restrictions now in force for Scotland, it’s not clear when this will happen now, although it’s not likely to be anytime soon.

Empty theatre seats

With strict social distancing in place, it’s proven difficult to find a safe way to reopen theatres and live music venues while still enabling them to meet costs.

Current regulations in England allow theatres and performance venues to open, both indoors and outdoors, but only with limited audiences indoors. Several West End shows have announced they will be welcoming audiences from October, with one theatre even going as far as to remove rows of seats to allow social distancing.

What will remain closed?

Larger mass gatherings, such as sporting events and concerts in arenas and stadiums, remain cancelled or postponed for the foreseeable future across the whole of the UK, although trials with limited spectators and audience members have taken place.

The UK government website says the only establishments in England that specifically remain closed nationwide are ‘nightclubs, dance halls and discotheques’ and ‘sexual entertainment venues and hostess bars’.

And, of course, areas under local lockdown or with tighter restrictions in place could see fewer businesses open than elsewhere.


This story was first published on 23 June 2020 and has been updated. The latest update was on 19 October to include new guidelines for Wales. Additional reporting by Kim Kaveh.

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