Half-term holidays could be under threat, with the Prime Minister reportedly considering a “circuit breaker” lockdown if his three-tier system fails to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Under a circuit breaker lockdown, pubs, restaurants and other businesses could be forced to close, and non-essential travel could be prohibited.
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer has called on the Government to impose a two- to three-week circuit breaker, to prevent a "sleepwalk into a long and bleak winter."
A decision is expected to be made towards the end of this week, meaning new restrictions could come into force when the state school half-term break begins on October 26.
Parts of the country are already facing limitations as the three-tier restrictions came into effect today – in those places under the highest tier, travel is restricted unless it is for school or work.
One option under consideration is for regional circuit breakers, which might be preferred by the Prime Minister after he likened a second national lockdown to a “nuclear deterrent”. One senior source said the chances of a circuit breaker were “at least 80 per cent”.
Northern Ireland is to bring in a partial “circuit breaker” with schools there to close for two weeks from Monday. This will also mean the closure of the hospitality sector for a fortnight, excluding deliveries and takeaways.
Wales is also on the brink of introducing a "short, sharp" circuit breaker. An announcement is expected at midday today.
Here we take a look into what a national circuit breaker, or regional circuit breaker lockdowns, could mean for our half-term holidays.
What would a circuit breaker mean for my UK half-term holiday?
We do not know for certain, but a good indicator could be to look at the current rules for travel for people in “very high risk” or “tier three” local lockdown areas right now. Merseyside and Lancashire are currently the only parts of the UK in this category.
On the Government website, it says the following for Tier 3 zones: “We are advising people not to travel into or out of an area if it has been categorised as a very high alert level area.
“This is part of wider measures to help manage the risk of transmission. You can continue to travel into or out of very high alert level areas if you need to for work, education, to access youth services or because of caring responsibilities.”
So, in all likelihood, a regional circuit breaker would mean holidays would no longer be permitted in that area, and residents in that area would not be able to travel outside of the region for a holiday. As with the national lockdown, a national circuit breaker could ban anyone from staying anywhere overnight for non-essential reasons.
Are people cancelling already?
Jonathan Raggett, Managing Director of Red Carnation Hotels, says the view is bleak if there's a circuit breaker lockdown: "A further lockdown – however short – will no doubt have devastating consequences. By introducing this circuit breaker, the government risks sapping consumer confidence at a delicate time. For those who have considered and practical Covid measures in place, such as our hotels and restaurants where guest and staff safety is paramount, we hope to be exempt from this circuit breaker.’
Businesses in Liverpool have already been affected. David Brewitt, owner of Hope Street Hotel in Liverpool said: "The latest restrictions on our business are having a devastating effect. Ordinarily we would make between 100 and 120 reservations per day of which half are made by telephone - but yesterday we took just six reservations by telephone."
However, businesses elsewhere in the country have not reported a drop in demand amid fears of a possible circuit breaker lockdown. Gemma Oddey, General Manager at Glass House Retreat in Upminster, Essex says: “We have not received any cancellations for October since the tier system was announced."
Thomas Cook says bookings are up in October. A spokesperson told the Telegraph: “We can see Brits really want a holiday and want one now – since we launched last month as a ‘Covid-ready’ travel company, we have seen huge demand in last-minute bookings with October being by far the most popular month for bookings, followed by Christmas."
Which parts of the UK are at risk of a regional circuit breaker lockdown?
The map, below, gives a good indication of the areas where Covid-19 is on the rise.
What would a circuit breaker mean for my overseas half-term holiday?
This is where we enter murky territory. People in “very high” risk areas are being told not to travel for anything but essential reasons. But in England there is no law standing in the way of your holiday. So continuing with a holiday would mean going against advice, but not breaking a law. This means that, while some operators will allow postponements, some might argue that since the seat is there and the flight will depart, no refund can be given.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says: “A consumer will generally be entitled to a refund when they have paid money in advance for services or goods that cannot be provided because of the coronavirus pandemic.”
A consideration is that people in Tier 2 are being advised not to mingle indoors with other households – a national circuit breaker lockdown would likely rule out group holidays.
Our detailed guide to your rights and the potential effects of Covid-19 on your overseas travel plans can be found here.
Are other countries considering circuit breaker lockdowns?
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, has announced that restaurants and bars would close across the Netherlands, with alcohol sales banned after 8pm. The new partial lockdown, which came into effect last week and was scheduled to last for four weeks, included limits on the size of social gatherings.
The French government was also considering imposing a series of tougher local lockdown measures due to similar surges in cases across the country in recent weeks.
What if my UK holiday is cancelled because of local restrictions?
If you are not able to stay in a hotel, cottage or other holiday accommodation because local restrictions prevent it, then you would normally be entitled to a full refund. If you are able to go on holiday, but suffer local restrictions on what you can do (for example, a group holiday being affected by a new 'one household' indoor mingling policy), you might be offered a partial refund in recognition of this, or a chance to postpone to a later date, but it’s an ambiguous area legally.
What if I decide to cancel my holiday, out of choice?
Our consumer expert Nick Trend writes: “This is a very problematic area. If you unilaterally cancel your holiday you will nearly always forfeit the cancellation costs – even if you are self-isolating after potential exposure to the virus. A few airlines and operators have said that they will allow customers who have already booked to postpone their holidays, but you have very little chance of a refund.
“People in lockdown in Wales are most likely to be affected. Advice given by the Welsh government is not very reassuring. It acknowledges the likely disappointment, but goes on to say: ‘If you have pre-booked – and paid for a holiday – we would advise you to contact the travel agent or travel company to discuss the current situation [in your area] and the restrictions which have been put in place by the Welsh Government to restrict non-essential travel. You should also contact your travel insurer to discuss the situation – while many insurers have designed policies with coronavirus exclusion clauses, some annual policies may cover this situation.’
“This last point may be true, but it is clutching at straws and very few people are now likely to have cover for this.”
If there is no circuit breaker, where can I go overseas?
Half-term holiday options are already limited to just four countries that Britons can visit without restrictions. These are Germany, mainland Greece, Gibraltar and Sweden.
There are other European destinations that are feasible, although not necessarily convenient, to visit over half term as they require a test on arrival or prior to entry. These are Cyprus, Jersey, the Faroe Islands and Madeira.
See here for the full list of destinations, including some Caribbean winter sun spots, that you can still travel to without needing to quarantine on arrival or upon your return to the UK.
Have you got a question about how your half-term holiday could be impacted by a circuit breaker lockdown? Send your queries to email@example.com and our experts will answer them