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Boris Johnson’s latest revamp of England’s coronavirus measures is the third system of restrictions to be announced in just six weeks, leaving citizens and business leaders scrambling to understand how the rules will work.

Speaking to MPs on Monday, Mr Johnson said that when lockdown ends on December 2, the country would return to a revised three-tiered regional system designed to last until spring.

Officials insisted the new measures would help the government “manage the virus” while enabling life to return closer to normal for the public.

Why has the regional tier system changed?

Mr Johnson said that while October’s three-tiered system had reduced the coronavirus reinfection rate, it had not been robust enough to bring the pandemic under control, and the government’s scientific advisers had argued for a tougher system.

Susan Hopkins, an infectious diseases adviser at Public Health England, last week said that October’s tier-one local restrictions had “very little effect”.

Minutes from a meeting of Sage, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, this month showed that advisers called for “more stringent” tier-three restrictions, with some modelling indicating that tier two was “the minimum intervention required to maintain any degree of control on transmission”.

The prime minister said it would be a mistake to “squander hard-won gains” at a time when the burden on the NHS was at its greatest. He added that he was determined to bring the R rate — the average number of new cases generated by an infected individual — below 1; it is currently “between 1 and 1.1”.

What are the key differences with the old system?

On the face of it, the revamped tier system looks similar to the earlier version, with shops reopened and a patchwork of restrictions on leisure and hospitality.

However, this time the tiers will be standardised across England, and more parts of the country will be under more restrictive measures. People in all three tiers will be urged to avoid any unnecessary travel.

Some measures have been tightened, particularly under tier three, where museums, cinemas and theatres will now have to close, and pubs, which were able to open in October if they served food, will have to shut or operate as takeaways.

Some restrictions have been eased. The 10pm pub closure has been dropped, allowing venues in tier one and two to stay open until 11pm — although last orders will be at 10pm.

Another change will be the return of spectators to some sports. Arenas will reopen up at up to 50 per cent capacity in areas under tier one and tier two — although with a maximum of just 4,000 spectators outdoors in tier one, and 2,000 in tier two.

Which areas will be under each tier?

On Thursday, ministers will announce which areas of England will fall under each tier. Only regions with the lowest prevalence of the virus and evidence of a low R number are expected to fall under tier one, suggesting parts of East Anglia, the south-east and south-west.

London could be in tier two because prevalence in the capital is still relatively low at just under 200 cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.

Most areas that were in tier three before lockdown expect to return to that level, including South Yorkshire, Nottingham, Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

Liverpool city region, where weekly cases have fallen fast to 185.9 per 100,000 people, could be released from the most restrictive measures as it is participating in the government’s mass testing pilot.

What was the reaction to the changes?

The new system prompted anger from the hospitality sector, with David Moore, founder of Pied A Terre — one of London’s oldest Michelin-starred restaurants — warning that the restrictions on indoor dining would “likely cripple an industry”.

Josh Hardie, acting director-general of business lobby group the CBI, warned that the next few weeks would require further financial support for thousands of struggling companies.

“Harsh measures and ongoing closures will continue to risk business failures in many sectors,” he said. “For firms wondering what restrictions they will face, details of regional tiers must be laid out in detail on Thursday and regularly reviewed in the future.”

Backbench Conservative MPs gave a cautious welcome to some of the measures. Steve Baker, an influential libertarian and deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group, which has opposed lockdown restrictions, welcomed the ending of the 10pm curfew and the reopening of shops but said evidence should be produced for every measure.

Mark Harper, former chief whip, said he would reserve judgment on the measures until the areas going into each tier had been designated. “I think if you go into tier three you will struggle to spot much of a difference from lockdown.”

  • Up to six people can meet indoors or outdoors

  • Bars, pubs and restaurants must operate a table service only. Last orders at 10pm; premises must close by 11pm

  • Retail and personal care businesses such as hairdressers and beauty salons, and indoor leisure facilities, such as gyms, can operate

  • Spectator sports can operate with a maximum of 50 per cent capacity or 4,000 people outdoors, and 1,000 indoors

  • No household mixing indoors, other than support bubbles; up to six people can meet outdoors

  • Pubs and bars must close unless they serve meals. Last orders at 10pm; premises must close by 11pm

  • Retail and personal care businesses such as hairdressers and beauty salons, and indoor leisure facilities can operate

  • Spectator sports can operate with a maximum of 50 per cent capacity or 2,000 people outdoors and 1,000 indoors

  • No household mixing indoors or in most outdoor spaces, except for support bubbles; up to six people can meet in some outdoor settings, such as parks or public gardens

  • All hospitality outlets must close, but can operate delivery, takeaway and drive-through services

  • Retail and personal care businesses such as hairdressers and beauty salons, and indoor leisure facilities can operate

  • Hotels and other accommodation providers (with some exceptions) and entertainment venues must close
    Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe

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