What is the difference between tier 4 and a national lockdown?

FEARS are growing that a third national lockdown could be imposed imminently to curb the spread of a mutant strain of coronavirus. 

Boris Johnson is poised to take action as the highly contagious new variant tears through London and the South East. 

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It comes amid warnings from scientists that harsh Tier 4 restrictions may not be enough to prevent the spread of a highly transmissible new strain, first discovered in Kent in October 2020.

In response, the PM is widely expected to impose a blanket shutdown across all regions of the country – we look at what this means for the Tier system.

How is a national lockdown different to tier 4? 

There is likely to be a few small but important differences between a national lockdown and Tier 4 restrictions.

It is widely expected that schools will be shut across the nation in a bid to curb transmission, as they were in the first lockdown in March.

Schools remained open during the second lockdown in November – but health experts have warned they may need to be closed for weeks to reduce the rate of infection.

All schools had been due to reopen on January 4 following the Christmas break – but many in Tier 4 areas will keep their doors closed with no timetable set for reopening.

The areas included are all London boroughs, Kent, Hertfordshire and Essex and the plans will be reviewed in two weeks.

Under Tier 4 rules, you can't mix indoors with anyone outside your household or support bubble – but you can meet one person outside in a public place like a park.

But it is expected that this could be scrapped as the government returns to pushing a strict 'Stay At Home' message.

A total of 44 million people are now under Tier 4 Covid restrictions, after more areas moved into the tier on New Year's Eve.

In the event of a national lockdown, strict measures would be imposed throughout England regardless of regional differences in the infection rate.

Asked whether new measures could include curfews or restricting people once again to an hour of exercise a day, he said: "There are obviously a range of tougher measures that we would have to consider."

None of these changes have yet been formally announced by the government.

Is a national lockdown the same as Tier 5? 

The government has refused to confirm whether it plans to upgrade the current Tier system to include a harsher 'Tier 5'.

It is also not known whether Downing Street would persist with the current Tier system if a national lockdown was introduced.

During the last lockdown in November 2020, the government temporarily paused the Tier system in a bid to simplify its 'Stay At Home' message – before reintroducing it the following month.

Despite the different terminology, a national lockdown is likely to include the exact same restrictions as are rumoured for Tier 5.

These could include the closure of all schools, a ban on all mixing between households and a return to one hour of exercise a day.

Brits would likely be urged to leave the house for 'essential' reasons only, including to buy food or medicine or go to hospital.

What are the current restrictions and when is the next review?

Under Tier 4, pubs, bars and restaurants are still allowed to operate but only for takeaway and delivery.

You cannot mix with indoors with anyone outside your household or support bubble – but you can meet one person outside in a public place like a park.

And in Tier 4, you can only leave home for "permitted reasons" like travelling to work or education – though Brits are advised to work from home.

Boris Johnson’s Government last changed the tier system on December 30.

Then they upgraded swathes of the UK to Tier 3 or Tier 4, leaving just the Isle of Scilly in Tier 1, with no areas under Tier 2 restrictions.

But the tiers are reviewed every two weeks, so we can expect the next review on January 13.

However, this could change if a national lockdown is introduced – widely expected to last for at least a month.

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