Coronavirus Q&A: Your questions on the new tier rules answered

Paul Nuki
A woman in Leeds, Yorkshire, which will enter Tier 3, after the four week national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus - Danny Lawson/PA
A woman in Leeds, Yorkshire, which will enter Tier 3, after the four week national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus - Danny Lawson/PA

The new tiers system was unveiled this week, with 99 per cent of the country facing Tier 2 and Tier 3 rules. 

The system of local restrictions will be in place till Spring, with a relaxation of the rules for five days over Christmas. However, areas could be moved into a lower tier after the first fortnightly review on December 16, according to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick. 

The Telegraph’s Global Health Security Editor, Paul Nuki, has answered reader questions on the new tier system below.

Don’t see an answer to your question? Leave your query in the comments section below or send a question to  yourstory@telegraph.co.uk for our experts to answer.

Can I travel between Tier 2 and Tier 3? 

Q. A M Cash: Can I go between Tier 2 and Tier 3? I am literally on the border between Greater Manchester and Cheshire.

My gym is in Tier 2, and shops, well half are in Tier 2 and half in Tier 3.  I am totally confused as my wife works in Tier 2 but we live technically in Tier 3.

My understanding is you can't mix between the two. Does anyone know if my wife can go for lunch with her colleagues? Can I go to my gym and cross the Covid-19 border?

A. Paul: Oh my! You are the ideal newspaper case study, Mr Cash. The perfect example of Covid restrictions gone mad. Unfortunately there is no easy answer.

There will always be issues at boarders because the government has got to draw the line somewhere even though it will not accord with where the virus starts or stops. This devilish bug does not read maps, alas!

The official advice is you can travel between tiers for work and other essential business but should behave in the new tier as the rules apply in the tier in which you live. That means you can go to the gym but your wife should not be going for lunch. Perhaps she can join you in the gym instead?

Two areas have the same infection rate but are in different tiers. Why?

Q. Stephen Kemp: Why are the lowest areas in Lincolnshire in Tier 3 while South Lakes with the same levels per 100,000 are in Tier 2?

A. Paul: It is not just rates per 100k the government takes account of. Positivity rates, rates among the over 60s, local NHS capacity and direction of travel are all important too. We have a great article on that here.

How can you justify Tier 1 in Cornwall?

Q. Ray Gainsayer: Why has Cornwall been called Tier 1 when in the last week there have been 2 cases of major infection in meat factories?

A. Paul: That’s a question that has been playing on my mind too. The answer, I think, is that those outbreaks appear to have been contained so far but they may yet spark a wider local epidemic. Let's hope not.

Why is the regional classification so broad?

Q. A Lawrence: The tiers are far too broad in scope. For example, why are fairly low populations in rural areas such as North Norfolk, Suffolk Coastal or North Devon included?

A. Paul: Beware of being lulled into a false sense of security in the countryside. You just need to look across the pond to the rural Dekotas in the US to see why.

They thought they were safe under those huge skies but rates are now rising faster there than most other places in America. The virus just took longer to arrive. Another issue is health care capacity. It tends to be lower in rural areas, hence the government’s caution.

Is it illegal to travel between tiers?

Q. Sunbeam Electrical: Is it illegal to travel between tiers or just advised against?

A. Paul: Not illegal, I think.

Here is the government advice word for word: “If you live in a Tier 1 area and travel to an area in a higher tier you should follow the rules for that area while you are there. Avoid travel to or overnight stays in Tier 3 areas other than where necessary, such as for work, education, youth services, to receive medical treatment, or because of caring responsibilities. You can travel through a Tier 3 area as part of a longer journey.”

Can you stay overnight in Tier 3? 

Q. Alex Howle: There's currently a disparity between law and advice on the Tier 3 overnight stay restriction, I think. Any thoughts?

A. Paul: You can travel for work and other essential journeys. As long as you are not caught taking the mick you should be fine. Travel necessitated by education, youth services, medical treatment, or because of caring responsibilities are all fine. We are more Swedish in the area of Covid enforcement than people give us credit for.

Why have areas been moved into higher tiers?

Q. Wadia Hiddon: How is it possible that after a month of lockdown any area finds itself in a tier higher than the one it was in previously?

A. Paul: Good question! The answer is that the epidemic has been steadily growing for much of the last four weeks. The lockdown has just slowed the growth rather than reversed it in many areas. This means that there are more infections after lockdown than before. Hence some areas jumping up a tier.

There may also be a political reason. Boris seems to have twigged that people like going down the tiers rather than up. Some have speculated he may be setting things high now, so the direction of travel is more likely to be down in the weeks ahead.

Why isn't there a Tier zero for safe areas?

Q. Ambrose Ceschin: Why is there not a  zero or minimal tier for areas that are safe? Are we all  to be in medium tiers for ever? What level of positive cases is to be considered safe? Zero? 

A. Paul: The ratings are a measure of risk, not incidence. While there is Covid at high levels in much of the country there is a medium risk of catching it even if you are not in one of those areas. Think delivery driver, second homer, staycationer, returning student etc.

Why do you have to buy food in a pub to have a drink?

Q. Wendy Cocksedge: I'd like to know why we are being forced to buy food if we want to have a drink in a pub? And if we buy food and don't eat it will we be breaching the rules and if so, what will the consequences be?

A. Paul: Good question, and deep down inside I think we all know the answer. The Government wants to put an end to crowded pubs and bars where people drink over long periods in confined spaces, getting ever louder and more animated as the hours roll by.

Why? Because everything we know about the virus points to these being ideal super-spreader events. By insisting that pubs only operate if they serve proper meals, the government is essentially turning them into restaurants which have quieter and less risky social dynamics. I suppose you could order a meal and not eat it but it would be a bit of a waste.

Personally I’m looking forward to a nice steak and chips in my local next week. A bit French, I know, but it’s been a while.

Can I go to work in Tier 3?

Q. Richard Blake: Are tradesmen allowed in to deal with emergencies or for remedial and installation works in Tier 3?

A. Paul: Yes, you can keep working if you can't work from home. Just be careful to take precautions in the places you visit so you reduce the risk of catching or spreading the virus. Open doors or windows; wear a mask if others in room; wash hands on entering and leaving

Can I travel to Tier 2 from Tier 3 for sport and shopping?

Q. Cathy JKK: So I'm on the edge of Tier 3 but my tennis club and local supermarket are up the road in Tier 2. Will I still be able to play tennis and go to the supermarket?

A. Paul: Yes, I think so. You have to behave as you would in tier three where you live. Tennis and supermarket shopping is allowed in tier three so I think you should be okay. You can double check here.

What impact will this have on airports in Tier 3? 

Q. Ian Walker: What effect does this have on airports in Tier 3 area? 

A. Paul: Airports carry on as normal, subject to current domestic and international travel restrictions.

Is the data that justifies tiers accurate?

Q. Fred Haroldson: How do we know whether the data presented by Prof Whitty and Sir Vallance is true this time?

A. Paul: Watch carefully how the great bulk of their scientific colleagues react. If they reflect the consensus expert view they are probably right.

What is the threshold for a 'high' amount of cases?

Q. Jo Rimmer: Where is the "science" behind saying that 300 "cases" per 100K is high and significant?

A. Paul: These things are all relative, Jo. Remember back in the summer the government used a case count of 20 per 100k to decide if there should be an “airbridge” between the UK and other countries?

Ultimately, it is not the rate of infections that is decisive but the NHS’s ability to deal with them. If the NHS had twice as much capacity, for example, higher case counts could be tolerated. Hopefully once the most vulnerable are vaccinated - and therefore protected - this measure will become less important.

Can Parliament block tiered restrictions? 

Q. Yalla Imshi: So what are MPs that oppose tier restrictions doing about it? 

A. Paul: Some of them say they will vote against the new system when it goes before Parliament next week. Watch closely how yours votes - will their deeds match their words?

How to ask a question 

Simply leave a question in the comments section at the bottom of this article or send an email to yourstory@telegraph.co.uk.