Boris Johnson has announced London and parts of southeast England will enter tier 4 from Sunday, a new level of restrictions designed to battle a novel variant of Covid-19.
According to the prime minister, all tier 3 areas in the southeast will move to tier 4, including Kent, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, parts of Hampshire and most of Surrey, in addition to all 32 London boroughs and the City of London.
Areas in the new tier will essentially be placed under lockdown, with a “stay in place” order going into effect from Sunday morning and non-essential businesses including personal care services and indoor leisure and entertainment venues forced to close.
Currently, the restrictions, which are in place for an initial two-week period, do not apply to schools, which have already broken up for the holidays.
However, Mr Johnson said that schools will still reopen as planned after the break.
Will schools be allowed to reopen under tier 4?
According to Downing Street, education settings such as schools and nurseries will remain open in tier 4 when school resumes in January with a staggered return.
The staggered return will begin with secondary schools, starting with exam years, vulnerable children and children of critical workers, the government said.
The move to keep schools open is similar to that during the second national lockdown, which saw schools and universities remain open, while the first national lockdown in the spring saw schools closed.
“Schools and colleges will remain open during term time in tier 4 areas. The government will continue to prioritise the wellbeing and long-term futures of our young people,” the government said.
“It remains very important for children and young people to attend, to support their wellbeing and education and help working parents and guardians. Senior clinicians still advise that school is the best place for children to be, and so they should continue to go to school during term time.”
During the press conference, Mr Johnson said travelling in tier 4 areas for education is permitted, along with travel for childcare purposes and exercise.
In Scotland, school pupils will not return to school on 11 January, with online learning until at least 18 January, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Saturday after announcing a three-week lockdown from Boxing Day.
Will universities be open?
Universities will also reopen for in-person learning, with a staggered return and widespread testing.
However, the government has noted that students who live at university should not “move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time”.
Under the restrictions, university students are allowed to meet in “groups of more than your household as part of your formal education or training”.
What precautions are in place for when schools reopen after break?
According to the government website, secondary schools in England will be offered “access to additional coronavirus testing from the first week of January”.
“This will help deliver the national priority of keeping as many pupils and teachers as possible in school beyond the start of term, minimising the spread of the virus and disruption caused by coronavirus cases arising in education settings,” the website states.
In schools and colleges where year 7 and above are educated, the government said face coverings should be worn by both educators and pupils when moving around indoors.
What else will remain open?
Under tier 4 restrictions, essential businesses will be allowed to remain open. These include businesses such as supermarkets, pharmacies, post offices, petrol stations and communal places of worship.
When will the tier 4 lockdown end?
The restrictions will be in place for two weeks, with the prime minister announcing a review scheduled for 30 December.
However, during the press conference, he said that those living in tier 4 areas can expect the rules to apply through New Year.
Tier 4 rules announced for London and southeast England
When will tier 4 lockdown begin?
Tier 4 lockdown rules and restrictions explained
Which areas are in Tier 4: Full list