Government sets out new three-tier Covid approach for England

The Prime Minister has detailed a new three-level alert system in England, where local areas will be put into medium, high and very high alerts, to combat the spread of Covid-19.

At a press conference held today (12 October), PM Boris Johnson said that the UK is entering a “new and crucial phase” in the fight against coronavirus.

There will be “simplifying, standardising and, in some places, toughening” of local rules in England, with the introduction of three levels of Covid alert.

The new system is as follows:

Medium: Consists of the existing national measures such as the rule of six and the closure of hospitality venues at 10pm.

High: Extra measures will be introduced, including a ban on indoor social mixing between households or support bubbles and the rule of six applying to outdoors.

Very high: Further action will be taken, with areas in this tier reviewed every four weeks. The exact restrictions will be worked out with local leaders, along with tailored packages of support. At a minimum, they will include a ban on all social mixing between households in private places, including gardens, and pubs and bars must close unless they can operate solely as a restaurant, serving alcohol only as part of a main meal. People will also be asked to not travel in and out of very high alert level areas.

Liverpool is currently on the highest alert level, tier three, which will see pubs and bars close from Wednesday (14 October).

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak then outlined the financial support available to businesses, employees and areas affected by the new changes.

The Job Support Scheme, available from November, is being expanded. If the closures mean employees are unable to work for one week or more, the employer will still be able to pay them two thirds of their normal salary and the government will cover the costs.

Businesses in England that are legally required to close will also be able to claim cash grants of up to £3,000 per month, depending on the value of their business premises. These will never need to be repaid.

Reactions from hospitality

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “The impact of all of these restrictions is huge and we are quickly reaching the point of no return for many businesses.

“For those businesses in tier three areas, forced to close their doors again, things look bleak, but the support announced last week for closed businesses will hopefully give them the breathing room they need to survive another lockdown.

“There is currently a concerning lack of support on offer for hospitality businesses in tier two, and to a lesser extent, tier one, despite their facing restrictions that is seeing trade down by between 40% to 60%.

“They will have the worst of both worlds, operating under significant restrictions without the financial support on offer to tier three businesses.

“Without enhanced grant support and enhanced government contributions to the Job Support Scheme, many are going to fall by the wayside.

“It is time for the government, at the very least, to rethink the mandatory 10pm curfew in those areas where Covid rates are low.

“It was imposed without credible evidence that hospitality is the source of increases in transmission, while some evidence points the other way. To leave hospitality out to dry would be a grave and risky move and would cost many people their jobs.”

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), said: “Singling out pubs for closure and further restrictions is simply the wrong decision and grossly unfair. It’s why we are calling for a proportionate response to the virus based on tangible transmission evidence.

“Public Health England figures released on Friday show that hospitality was responsible for just 3% of total transmissions. Where is the merit in closing pubs to combat the virus based on that information? Especially when they are providing a safe and regulated place for people to meet at.

“Local lockdowns that close pubs will devastate our sector and the communities it serves, and most pubs will struggle to sustain viable business under tier two with their trade being so heavily impacted. Thousands of local pubs and jobs will be lost for good.

“It remains the case that even before these new local lockdown restrictions, pubs were already struggling for survival with low consumer confidence, the 10pm curfew, rule of six and limited operating space due to social distancing.

“For those pubs facing the middle tier of restrictions, they will come under even more pressure as customers from two different households will not be able to meet indoors in them.

“If the government is really going to go ahead and force much of our sector to close, then a far stronger financial package of support is going to be needed than what the Chancellor already announced.

“The cash grants for businesses forced to close will not cover high fixed costs and write off costs for and are lower when compared to the grant support given during the national lockdown.

“Likewise grants and the additional job retention support should be available to those pubs facing the middle tier of restrictions and the inevitable further decline in their revenue they face.

“Accessing that support remains a critical concern for us too. We fear many businesses won’t be eligible for the support due to State Aid caps.

“It is also imperative that the government is clear on the benchmarks between the different tiers. If regions across England do go into lockdown, then they will need to be reviewed far more frequently than once a month. Reviewing the lockdowns at least every two weeks would give closed pubs a glimmer of hope that they can return back to trade sooner than later.”

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