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Lockdown latest: Wales now in ‘firebreak’ as Scotland gets new alert levels

The Scottish five-level system will come into force on 2 November

Lockdown latest: Wales now in ‘firebreak’ as Scotland gets new alert levels

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled Scotland’s new five-level coronavirus alert system, due to begin at the start of next month.

She has also extended the restrictions across the country’s central belt for an extra week, to keep them in place until the new five-level system begins.

Meanwhile, Wales has entered its 17-day ‘firebreak’ lockdown, with residents facing the strictest restrictions in the UK.

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

How does Scotland’s five-level system work?

It’s similar to the three-Tier system in England, but with more levels. None of the levels in the Scottish system align exactly with those in the English system.

Here’s what’s open and who you can meet under each alert level:

Who can meet? What’s open? What’s closed?
Level 0 – Inside: up to eight people from three households inside
– Outside: up to 15 people from five households
– Most businesses
– Schools
– Adult entertainment
– Nightclubs
Level 1 – Inside: six from two households
– Outside: six from two households
– Most businesses but curfews may apply on hospitality
– Schools
– Adult entertainment
– Nightclubs
Level 2 – No socialising in homes
– Inside a pub or restaurant: six from two households
– Outside: six from two households
– Shops, pubs and restaurants, but pubs can only serve alcohol indoors with main meals and may have curfews
– Schools
– Adult entertainment
– Nightclubs
– Some leisure and entertainment, including soft play and theatres
Level 3 – No socialising in homes
– Inside a pub or restaurant: six from two households
– Outside: six from two households
– Shops, pubs and restaurants, but alcohol can’t be sold inside or outside and curfews may apply
– Close-contact services may need ‘additional protective measures’
– Schools
– All leisure and entertainment, including cinemas and arcades
Level 4 – No socialising in homes
– Outside: six from two households
– Essential retail
– Schools
– Pubs and restaurants
– Gyms
– Everything else except essential retail

These rules are due to kick in on 2 November. Until then, the current arrangements still apply, with pubs, restaurants and cafés shut in the Central Belt.

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, bingo halls and more are also closed.

For the rest of Scotland, indoor hospitality businesses can only open 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 being served.

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

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 until the end of Sunday 8 November.

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

In Wales, the firebreak means the following business types are closed 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 is not permitted, inside or outside. Gatherings for Halloween and Bonfire Night can’t go ahead.

Single parents and adults living alone can 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 after the firebreak ends.

How does England’s three-Tier system work?

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

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

The following rules are now also 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 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 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.

Under Scotland’s new system, people living under levels 3 or 4 are not permitted to leave their areas other than for essential reasons, such as work or education.

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 was the case in Wales before venues closed 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.

Where are pubs and restaurants open?

  • Where are they open? Scotland (except for the Central Belt), England (pubs closed under Tier 3)

In Northern Ireland, Scotland’s central belt, and Wales, pubs, bars and restaurants are closed. Tier 3 in England requires pubs to close, but not restaurants. Pubs can stay open if they operate as restaurants, only serving alcohol with meals.

Where they are open in England, six people can still meet inside a pub in Tier 1 areas, 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. They will also be closed in Scotland for any areas placed under Level 4 restrictions.

hairdressers set up for social distancing

Where are gyms, pools and leisure centres open?

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

Gyms are closed in Wales as part of the circuit breaker, but they’re open in Northern Ireland for individual exercise. In Scotland, indoor gyms will close in areas placed into Level 4.

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 were 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 (Levels 0-2)

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 Wales under the current lockdowns.

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.

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 26 October to include new guidelines. Additional reporting by Kim Kaveh.

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