Robert Peston

How strict will the new Covid restrictions be?

How strict will the new Covid restrictions be?
(Photo: Getty)
Text settings
Comments

I have a few points to make about the new three tier system to be announced today for restricting our lives and businesses, to suppress Covid-19.

1) Last Wednesday, the government was so worried about the spread of coronavirus in the north of England that it was planning to impose new restrictions on places like Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle before announcing the three-tier framework. Because of opposition from city mayors and local authorities, that is now not going to happen. The three-tier framework will come first.

2) However, it is probable that there will be new restrictions announced today for Liverpool, if agreement with the Mayor Steve Rotheram is reached in time – which seems highly likely. In other words Liverpool will be the first place in England to be subject to Tier Three restrictions.

3) This highest tier, Tier Three, will have four main characteristics.

a) Pubs and restaurants will be closed for all business except takeaways. That will be a legally enforceable rule.

b) Local people will be asked – as guidance rather than a legally enforceable rule – to only make essential journeys within a Tier Three area.

c) People living within a Tier Three area will be urged not to leave the area, unless it is absolutely necessary. Again that will be guidance.

d) And people living outside a Tier Three area will be asked not to travel to a Tier Three area unless essential, and they will be urged not to stay overnight. Again that will be guidance.

For the avoidance of doubt, Tier One restrictions are the baseline restrictions applying everywhere in England, unless areas are subject to Tier Two or Three restrictions.

The core of Tier One is the 'Rule of Six' – where only six people are allowed in a home or garden, or sitting at a pub table or restaurant table – and there is a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants.

Tier Two is largely Tier One minus the Rule of Six, so you cannot host people in your home or garden unless they are in your support or childcare bubble, or go to a home or garden outside of your support or childcare bubble.

The idea behind all this was supposed to be to simplify the system, and make it more comprehensible and easier to remember for all of us.

You tell me whether it feels simpler.

And over the last few days of regional protests against further repressive measures, Boris Johnson has acquired a second motive: he wants to share responsibility for newly imposed restrictions with relevant city mayors and local authorities – so they can also share the blame if any of it goes wrong.

There will be explicit permission for mayors and local authorities to go even further than Tier Three regulations, such as by closing gyms and hairdressers, if they believe local viral conditions warrant it.

Also Tier Three rules – unlike Tiers One and Two – automatically expire after four weeks, and would have to be renewed if necessary.

It is quite important to note that Tier Three remains a distance from the full lockdown imposed on March 23: much of the economy would remain open; we would not be prisoners in our homes.

But perhaps as important is that if it's deemed necessary to move to full lockdown, that appears to be a decision that would fall in large part on mayors and local government – which may not be the kind of devolution they would relish.

That's your lot, for now, except to remind you that all of the above applies to England, and that Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have been following similar though not identical paths.