The three-tier system, rule of six, and Test and Trace: what do the latest restrictions in England mean for you?

New government rules have created a three-tier system consisting of medium, high and very high, depending on local alert levels. The rule of six still applies in medium-risk areas, and last month the NHS Covid-19 app was launched to alert people to changes in their area, and when they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.

But what does this all mean for you? Here, the government answers some frequently asked questions.

The three-tier system
Am I safe to go on a UK holiday and stay in a house with a friend who I am not in a bubble with? We would not be sharing a bedroom
Yes, provided you both live in a medium-risk area and are travelling to a medium-risk area, you can stay overnight away from the place where you are living with people who are not from your household, as long as you are in a group of no more than six people or in a single household or bubble. This includes staying overnight in a second home, hotel, bed and breakfast or campsite. Ensure you are socially distanced from anyone you do not live with or who is not in your support bubble and avoid using shared facilities wherever possible.

You cannot stay with someone outside your household or support bubble if either you or the other person(s) live in a high-risk or very-high-risk area, or you are travelling to a high-risk or very-high-risk area.

I live in a high-risk area. Can I travel to a medium-risk area to meet friends who live there for dinner in an indoor setting?
No. You essentially take the level you live in with you, and all the rules of the level where you live apply even if you go into a lower level. So in this scenario you could only meet that group of friends and eat with them outdoors. It is only if you all live in a medium-risk area that you can eat in a group of six indoors either at a restaurant or a private home.

If you live in a very-high-risk area, then you would be advised not to travel in and out of that area, aside from work, education, caring purposes, or youth services.

I am a pensioner and feeling very lonely. A social group I was previously part of has started meeting for dinners in small groups in restaurants. Would I be allowed to join them?
If you live in a medium-risk area you are allowed to join small groups in restaurants, either indoors or outdoors, as long as the number doesn’t exceed six. If you live in a high-risk or very-high-risk area you can meet in groups of up to six people outdoors, in some settings, and only one household indoors. Single households or support bubbles of more than six are still able to meet.

Can my mum come to stay to look after my son? She lives alone, but is in a bubble with my sister
Your mum would be able to look after your son as long as the total number of people in your house does not exceed six and you are in a medium-risk area. In a high-risk or very-high-risk area your mum would only be able to look after your son indoors if she was part of your support bubble or a childcare bubble. For your mum to be able to look after your son as part of a childcare bubble he would need to be under 13, and your household and your mum’s household could not be part of a childcare bubble with any other households.

Your mum should ensure she maintains social distance from you, and tries to maintain distance from your son. However, we recognise it may not always be possible or practicable to maintain social distancing when providing care to a young child. Your mum should still limit close contact as much as possible when providing care, and take other precautions such as hand washing and opening windows for ventilation.

How should I plan Christmas with my family this year?
Christmas is still some time away – more than two months – and the government will keep all aspects of its response to coronavirus under review according to the changing number and composition of cases in the country. It is now against the law to meet people you do not live with in groups of more than six for those in medium-risk areas. Those in high-risk and very-high-risk areas can meet up in groups of up to six people outdoors and one household or support bubble indoors. Single households or support bubbles of more than six are still able to gather together in all areas.

The rule of six
My son is in university campus accommodation with seven others who share a living room, kitchen and bathrooms but have their own bedrooms
Your son and his friends likely constitute a household, so they can continue to gather together, but would not be able to socialise with another person as a household.

I assume that since I am back at work with 15 people, I can have those people back to my house, to socialise in the garden, as long as we keep the same distance we would in the office. Is that right?
No, meeting with work colleagues outside of work is not Covid-secure and there is an increased transmission risk.

Can I book two tables of six in a restaurant so we can talk to each other but not gather at each other’s tables?
No. Talking across two tables of six would involve forming a larger gathering or mingling, which would be against the law.

Am I allowed to have five friends back to my flat for a drink after the pubs close at 10pm?
Those within medium-risk areas may continue to meet up to five other people so long as you ensure social distancing and other mitigations such as increased ventilation and good hygiene practices such as regular hand washing. People in high-risk and very-high-risk areas cannot meet people from outside their own household inside but could sit in the garden.

Test and trace
I was at a pub last week and have been contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service to say someone has tested positive for Covid-19. I have been in my office since the pub visit and am nervous of telling my employer – will the whole office have to go into quarantine if I tell them?
You must self-isolate straight away if notified by NHS Test and Trace. You will need to self-isolate for 14 days from the date of contact. You should notify your employer that you have been asked to self-isolate.

People you work with do not need to self-isolate unless they have also been notified by the NHS Test and Trace service and asked to do so.

My children are starting to come home from school with sniffles and sore throats, but not fevers or coughs. Do I need to get them tested every time they complain of feeling “coldy”?
You should get your child tested if they develop one of the three main symptoms of coronavirus: a high temperature; a new continuous cough; a loss or change to their sense of smell or taste.

I have had a negative test a week after returning from France. Do I still need to quarantine?
You must self-isolate for 14 days even if you test negative for coronavirus, as it can take up to 14 days for coronavirus symptoms to appear and in this time you can unknowingly pass it on to others.

In England, if you do not complete the required self-isolation period you can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £1,000.

My flatmate has returned to the UK from Spain. If she stays two metres away from us, has tested negative and has no coronavirus symptoms, do we all need to quarantine?
Only household members of someone with symptoms or who tests positive for coronavirus need to self-isolate for 14 days.

If someone you live with has returned to the UK from a country not covered by the travel corridor exemption and is self isolating, you do not need to self-isolate as well, unless that person develops symptoms.