London to move to “high level” Tier Two restrictions from Saturday

UK: The UK Government is placing the City of London under “high level” Tier Two restrictions, effective from midnight on Friday / Saturday morning, affecting around nine million citizens in the capital. 

Matt Hancock, the UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, warned the threat of Covid-19 remains “grave and serious” as he announced that London, along with Essex and Elmbridge in Surrey, would be moving to Tier Two from 12.01am on Saturday morning. In doing so, he said the government “must act to prevent more hospitalisations, more deaths and more economic” and work together to suppress the virus.

In doing so, Hancock opted not to introduce a national “circuit breaker”, or temporary lockdown nationwide, despite pressure from London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Labour Party leader Keir Starmer.

MPs in London were believed to have held an emergency Zoom call with junior health minister Helen Whately at 9.30am on Thursday morning where they were first told of the Tier Two upgrading plans. According to The Telegraph, the infection rate has been edging ever closer to the 100 per 100,000 infection rate threshold over the past few days, with the highest number of deaths being recorded since early June, which has prompted this action now.

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has brought in a three-tier system to “simplify” rules and local lockdown restrictions in coronavirus hotspots, based on medium, high and very high alert levels.

In areas with the highest levels and rates of infection, venues such as pubs, gyms and casinos are having their operating hours cut and may be forced to shut down temporarily or permanently to limit the spread of the virus. It is still unclear whether more restrictions will be placed on accommodation providers, such as hotels, short-term rentals and serviced apartments, although they will be subject to existing rules, including the “Rule of Six” for families and bubbles.

Those meeting outside still have to abide by the Rule of Six, which allows for different households and support bubbles to mix.

What would Tier Two restrictions entail?

As part of the three-tier lockdown system, Tier Two is the second highest level of infection risk, after the “very high alert level” Tier Three. Under Tier Two, the following restrictions would be enforced:

  • Businesses and venues can continue to operate, provided that it is in line with the Covid guidelines and is not a venue that is banned from accepting visitors or customers, such as nightclubs, adult entertainment venues etc
  • Certain businesses that sell food or drink on their premises will be required by law to operate under a curfew between the hours of 10pm and 5am. However, those selling food for consumption off the premises will be able to run beyond 10pm, as long as it is a delivery service, click-and-collect or drive-thru option
  • Educational facilities such as schools and universities will remain open
  • Places of worship will also stay open
  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with a limit on the number of attendees
  • Organised indoor sport and exercise classes will be able to run, but will have to comply with the Rule of Six legislation
  • The Rule of Six will still apply in outdoor settings and in people’s private gardens
  • People will be forbidden from meeting anyone from outside their own household or support bubble in any indoor environment, including both homes and public places
  • People are advised to limit their journeys to only essential travel and should avoid public transport and peak travel times if possible

London Mayor Khan told the BBC that the government’s “complete failure to get a working test and trace system” meant the UK needed “action on a national scale”, as he called for a nationwide circuit breaker to “save thousands of lives and drive the virus down to manageable levels”. He urged the government to provide more support for businesses, workers and public services to keep them running as the new restrictions come into effect.

The mayor warned Londoners would have “a difficult winter ahead” but added that “we will get through this dark time by pulling together”.

Under the new high alert level restrictions, this means that businesses and venues must ensure that people do not meet on or within their premises with others from outside of their household or support bubble.

For workers, however, the UK Government website states: “There is no limit to the group size when you are meeting or gathering for work purposes, but workplaces should be set up to meet the Covid-secure guidelines.”

This means that anyone who cannot work from home are able to travel to and from their place of work. Those who can effectively work from home are encouraged to do so over the winter months.

The government website was last updated on 12 October 2020.

Merilee Karr, chair of the STAA and CEO of UnderTheDoormat, said: “Whilst we recognise the need for this move to Tier Two in London, the short-term accommodation industry remains open for business and now, more than ever, we can offer visitors who want to come to London a safe and clean environment in which to stay.

“The cleaning code that the STAA jointly developed with partners across the industry should reassure guests that their accommodation will offer a suitable place to stay and, as long as they stay in their household groups and observe the Covid-19 guidelines when they are out and about, it can be a responsible way over the half-term holiday to adhere to the rules while still experiencing a short break.

“Our members are very conscientious about adhering to the guidelines and have worked incredibly hard to keep their businesses operating under very uncertain conditions. The restrictions on hospitality will undoubtedly have an impact on short-term rentals and we are in dialogue with government representatives to help them recognise that many viable businesses in our sector will be indirectly affected by forced closures of things like pubs and restaurants as well as the ongoing quarantine measures as it will reduce demand for accommodation.

“We look forward to our upcoming industry launch of Trusted Stays as a way to help the industry in a demand constrained world, while providing much needed flexible accommodation to support government and the NHS in the coming months,” she added.