Three-tier lockdown rules: Can you travel under the new coronavirus restrictions?

Simon Calder
·6-min read
No go: Liverpool City region is a ‘Very High’ risk area (Simon Calder)
No go: Liverpool City region is a ‘Very High’ risk area (Simon Calder)

The prime minister has outlined the three-tier system for additional restrictions in England to try to limit the spread of coronavirus.

The consequences for travellers are not entirely clear, but these questions and answers are intended to reflect the differences across the UK.

What are the “three tiers” and what do they mean for travellers in the affected areas?

The government says it aims to “simplify and standardise local rules by introducing a three tiered system of local Covid Alert Levels in England”.

The levels are set at medium, high, and very high.

The “medium” alert level – which covers most of the country – simply continues the national measures that came into force on 25 September, such as “the Rule of Six” and the closure of pubs at 10pm. This covers most of England.

The “high” alert level is mainly about reducing household-to-household transmission “by preventing all mixing between households or support bubbles indoors”.

Outdoors, including private gardens, the Rule of Six applies. The category includes areas in northwest and northeast England, and some parts of the Midlands.

The government says: “People should aim to reduce the number of journeys they make where possible. If they need to travel, they should walk or cycle where possible, or to plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes on public transport.”

The “very high” alert level means there is no social mixing indoors and in private gardens, but the Rule of Six applies in open public spaces like parks and beaches. It currently applies to Liverpool City Region.

Pubs and bars can remain open only if they operate as if they were a restaurant, and alcohol can be served only as part of a “substantial” meal.

Crucially for travellers, the government says people will be advised not to travel in and out of Very High risk areas – other than for work, education, accessing youth services or to meet caring responsibilities.

People who are outside these areas should not enter except for the purposes above. In addition they can enter if they are in transit. Typically that would mean travelling through on a train, or arriving or departing from an airport in the “very high” risk areas.

Can I travel from a higher tier to a lower tier and vice versa?

While there is no legal restriction on travel between different tiers, the government is urging people not to move to or from the two higher tiers.

Anyone in a “high” area is “advised not to travel in and out of these areas” – whether to a “medium” or a “very high" area.

For “very high” areas the government says: “People should try to avoid travelling outside the ‘very high’ area they are in, or entering a ‘Very High’ area.”

What about staying in hotels or other paid accommodation?

“People should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK if they are resident in a ‘very high’ area, or avoid staying overnight in a ‘very high’ area if they are resident elsewhere,” says the government.

If you in are either category – not able to leave an area, or not able to enter it – and booked in a property, you should contact the proprietor as soon as possible to discuss options – for which the general preference will be for a postponement.

I have an Advance train reservation to or through a very high risk area. Can I get my money back?

The train operators are not generally offering refunds, but will allow you to reschedule. Some are charging a £10 amendment fee, others allowing free changes.

If you are booked to travel through a very high-risk area, you may continue to do so in accordance with government advice – but of course by obeying all the rules for public transport, and any additional stipulations by individual operators, eg mandatory seat reservations.

I live in a very high risk area and have a flight/holiday booked. Can I get a refund?

You should not travel (although from England there is no law standing in the way), and should contact the operator to discuss options. Some will allow postponements without problem, but others will argue: “The seat is there, and it’s not our fault you can’t use it.”

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.”

There has yet to be a test case to see if lockdown rules preventing travel should always trigger a full refund.

What are the rules to and from other nations of the UK?

People living in very high risk areas in England should not travel anywhere else, but that does not have the force of law behind it. This is a cause for concern from the other countries. Vaughan Gething, health minister for Wales, said: “I’m disappointed that there hasn't been a more definitive response from the UK government.

“We do know that travel in and outside of those [high-risk] areas has been a factor in the spread of coronavirus to other parts of the UK, including some examples here in Wales.”

The only legal controls at present applying to people from outside Wales prevent travel to the lockdown areas in the south and north of the country.

Within Wales, anyone in a lockdown area is not allowed to travel out for a holiday.

What is the effect of the Scottish special measures on the central belt?

The government in Edinburgh has imposed restrictions on the area stretching from the Clyde to the Forth. It says: “We are not imposing mandatory travel restrictions at this stage however you should avoid public transport unless it is absolutely necessary – for example for going to school or to work, if home working is not an option.

Travellers whose journeys would take them through the central belt are told: “Please think about whether you need to travel."

People living in the area can still go on holiday, and take public transport as necessary. “You should only travel with and stay with people from your own or extended household group,” says the Scottish government.

It adds: “Check local guidance before travelling to others parts of the UK.”

What about Northern Ireland?

Special restrictions affect Derry City and Strabane. “All museums, galleries and cultural attractions must remain closed,” says the Northern Ireland Executive.

“People living in Derry and Strabane local government district area are required to avoid all unnecessary travel. Similarly, people should only travel to the area where it is absolutely necessary.”

Read more

What lockdown tier am I in? Local area tiers explained

What will three-tier coronavirus lockdowns look like?