Guidance

Local COVID alert level: very high

Find out what restrictions are in place if you live in an area where the local COVID alert level is very high.

This is for areas with a very high level of infections and where tighter restrictions are in place. The restrictions placed on areas with a very high level of infections can vary. They are based on discussions between central and local government on the measures required to reduce the spread. You should therefore check the specific rules in your area.

Local COVID alert levels are sometimes called ‘tiers’ or known as a ‘local lockdown’.

In all areas of England, make sure you remember ‘Hands. Face. Space’:

  • hands– wash your hands regularly and for 20 seconds
  • face – wear a face covering in indoor settings where social distancing may be difficult, and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet
  • space – stay 2 metres apart from people you do not live with where possible, or 1 metre with extra precautions in place (such as wearing face coverings or increasing ventilation indoors)

This guidance is for people who both:

  • live in an alert level that is very high
  • are fit and well

There is separate guidance for:

There are additional restrictions in place depending on where you live. See guidance for:

Meeting with family and friends

You must not meet socially with friends and family indoors in any setting unless they are part of your household or support bubble. This includes private homes and indoors in hospitality venues, such as pubs. You must also not meet with people outside of your household or support bubble in a private garden or in most outdoor public venues.

A support bubble is where a household with one adult joins with another household. Households in that support bubble can still visit each other, stay overnight, and visit public places together.

Informal childcare can also be provided via childcare bubbles. Find out more about childcare bubbles in the ‘Childcare’ section.

You may continue to see friends and family you do not live with (or have formed a support bubble with) in groups of 6 or less in certain outdoor public spaces, such as:

  • parks, beaches, countryside, forests
  • public gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them), allotments
  • outdoor sports courts and facilities, and playgrounds

When you do so, you must not meet in a group of more than 6. In England, this limit of 6 includes children of any age.

Meeting in larger groups is against the law. The police can take action against you if you meet in larger groups. This includes breaking up illegal gatherings and issuing fines (fixed penalty notices).

You can be fined £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400. If you hold, or are involved in holding, an illegal gathering of over 30 people, the police can issue fines of £10,000.

When meeting friends and family you should also:

  • follow social distancing rules when you meet up
  • limit how many different people you see socially over a short period of time

Exceptions where people from different households can gather in groups larger than 6 people

These include:

  • in a legally permitted support bubble
  • in a legally permitted childcare bubble (see section on childcare for more details)
  • for work, volunteering to provide voluntary or charitable services (see guidance on working safely in other people’s homes)
  • for registered childcare, education or training
  • to allow contact between birth parents and children in care
  • for arrangements where children do not live in the same household as both their parents or guardians
  • for prospective adopting parents to meet a child or children who may be placed with them
  • for supervised activities provided for children, including wraparound care (before and after school childcare), youth groups and activities, and children’s playgroups
  • for birth partners
  • to see someone who is dying
  • to provide emergency assistance, and to avoid injury or illness, or to escape a risk of harm
  • to fulfil a legal obligation, such as attending court or jury service
  • to provide care or assistance to someone vulnerable
  • to facilitate a house move
  • for a wedding or equivalent ceremony where the organiser has carried out a risk assessment and taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of the virus – up to a maximum of 15 people (not to take place in private dwellings)
  • for funerals – up to a maximum of 30 people; wakes and other commemorative events are permitted with up to 15 people present (not to take place in private dwellings)
  • for elite sportspeople and their coaches if necessary for competition and training, as well as parents or guardians if they are a child
  • for outdoor exercise and dance classes, organised outdoor sport and licensed outdoor physical activity
  • for indoor organised sport for disabled people, sport for educational purposes and supervised sport and physical activity for under-18s
  • support groups of up to 15 participants – formally organised groups to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support (not to take place in private dwellings)
  • protests – if organised in compliance with COVID-secure guidance

Where a group includes someone covered by such an exception (for example, someone who is working), they are not generally counted as part of the gatherings limit. This means, for example, a tradesperson can go into a household without breaching the limit, if they are there for work.

Visiting other venues, including restaurants, pubs and places of worship

In very high alert level areas, as a baseline, pubs and bars will be closed unless they are serving substantial meals, like a main lunchtime or evening meal.

Additional restrictions may apply depending on discussions between central and local government. Find out what additional measures apply in your area. Retail and places of worship will remain open, but subject to the further restrictions on social contact that apply for this level.

Venues following COVID-secure guidance can host more people in total, but no one must mix indoors or in most public outdoor venues with anyone who they do not live with (or have formed a support bubble with). This includes in:

  • pubs and restaurants, where they are permitted to open
  • leisure and entertainment venues
  • places of worship

At least one person in your group should give their contact details to the venue or check in using the official NHS COVID-19 app so NHS Test and Trace can contact you if needed.

Protecting people more at risk from coronavirus

If you have any of the following health conditions, you may be clinically vulnerable, meaning you could be at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus. If you are clinically vulnerable you:

  • can go outside as much as you like but you should still try to keep your overall social interactions low
  • can visit businesses, such as supermarkets, pubs and shops, whilst keeping 2 metres away from others wherever possible or 1 metre plus other precautions
  • should continue to wash your hands carefully and more frequently than usual and maintain thorough cleaning of frequently touched areas in your home and/or workspace

Clinically vulnerable people are those who are:

  • aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
  • under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (that is, anyone instructed to get a flu jab each year on medical grounds):
    • chronic (long-term) mild to moderate respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
    • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
    • chronic kidney disease
    • chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
    • chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS) or cerebral palsy
    • diabetes
    • a weakened immune system as the result of certain conditions or medicines they are taking (such as steroid tablets)
    • being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
  • pregnant women

There is a further group of people who are defined, also on medical grounds, as clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus – that is, people with specific serious health conditions. At each local COVID alert level, there is additional advice that clinically extremely vulnerable people must follow.

Business and venues

All businesses and venues should follow COVID-secure guidelines to protect customers, visitors and workers.

Some businesses in your areas may be closed. Find out what additional measures apply in your area.

Restrictions on businesses and venues in very high alert level areas include:

  • certain businesses selling food or drink on their premises are required to close between 10pm and 5am
  • businesses and venues selling food for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm as long as this is through delivery service, click-and-collect or drive-through
  • hospitality venues in ports, on transport services and in motorway service areas do not need to close at 10pm, but must not serve alcohol after that time
  • pubs and bars must close; they can only remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant - which means serving substantial meals, like a main lunchtime or evening meal; they may only serve alcohol as part of such a meal
  • businesses must ensure that they operate in a COVID-secure manner, including restrictions on table service and group bookings
  • certain businesses and venues are required to collect customer, visitor and staff data to support NHS Test and Trace
  • the wearing of face coverings for customers and staff in certain indoor settings
  • businesses must ensure that if their workers are required to self-isolate, they do not work outside their designated place of self-isolation
  • businesses and venues must ensure people do not meet in their premises with people from outside of their household or support bubble
  • businesses and venues that fail to comply with these restrictions may face fines of up to £10,000, prosecution, or in some cases closure

This is the baseline in very high alert level areas. In addition, the government will seek to agree additional measures in consultation with local authorities in order to reduce the spread of the virus. These could include the following options:

  • restrictions preventing the sale of alcohol in hospitality or closing all hospitality (takeaway and delivery permitted)
  • closing indoor and outdoor entertainment and tourist attractions and venues
  • closing venues such as leisure centres and gyms (while ensuring provision remains available for elite athletes, youth and disabled sport and physical activity)
  • closing public buildings, such as libraries and community centres (while ensuring provision remains available for youth clubs and childcare activity and support groups)
  • closing personal care and close contact services or prohibiting the highest-risk activities
  • closing performing arts venues for the purposes of performing to audiences

Going to work

To help contain the virus, office workers who can work effectively from home should do so over the winter. Where an employer, in consultation with their employee, judges an employee can carry out their normal duties from home they should do so.

Public sector employees working in essential services, including education settings, should continue to go into work where necessary.

Anyone else who cannot work from home should go to their place of work.

The risk of transmission can be substantially reduced if COVID-secure guidelines are followed closely. Extra consideration should be given to those people at higher risk.

Those classed as clinically extremely vulnerable can go to work as long as the workplace is COVID secure, but should carry on working from home wherever possible.

For more information, follow the guidance on how to return to work safely.

People living inside and outside of the very high alert level area can continue to travel in and out of the areas for work.

There is no limit to the group size when you are meeting or gathering for work purposes, but workplaces should be set up to meet the COVID-secure guidelines.

Going to school, college and university

The government has prioritised ensuring all children can attend school safely, to support their wellbeing and education and help working parents and guardians.

You can find out more about the government’s approach to education and how schools have prepared. This is applicable in all the local COVID alert levels.

Universities have welcomed students back and we have published guidance advising universities on reopening to ensure they have safety measures in place to minimise the spread of the virus.

You can move home and travel to go to university but there are some stricter rules in place for very high alert level areas:

  • you must not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time – subject to limited exemptions set out in law
  • students living at their university term-time address in a very high alert level area should follow the same guidance on meeting other people and travel as others in that area
  • commuter students (those who live at a family home which may not be in the same area as their university and who travel to/from university each day) should be able to continue to travel to and from their university as required, this being for education purposes

If you commute into very high alert level area to go to university you must not:

  • meet people you do not live with in their home inside one of the affected areas, unless they’re in your household, childcare or support bubble
  • host people you do not live with in your home, if they live in one of the affected areas, unless they’re in your household, childcare or support bubble
  • meet people you do not live with in their student halls, whether inside or outside of one of the affected areas, unless they’re in your household or childcare or support bubble

If you move out of, or currently live outside of, an affected area you should not:

  • host people you do not live with in your home or student halls if they live in a high or very high alert level area (unless they’re in your household, support bubble or childcare bubble)

Childcare

There are exceptions from legal gatherings limits for registered childcare, education or training, and supervised activities provided for children, including wraparound care, youth groups and activities, and children’s playgroups. This means you can continue to use early years and childcare settings, including childminders, after-school clubs and nannies. See guidance on working safely in other people’s homes.

The following people can provide childcare support in private homes and gardens:

  • registered childcare providers, including nannies
  • people in your support bubble
  • people in your childcare bubble

A childcare bubble is where someone in one household provides informal (unpaid and unregistered) childcare to a child aged 13 or under in another household. This must always be between the same 2 households.

Friends or family who do not live with you and are not part of a support or childcare bubble must not visit your home to help with childcare. Childcare bubbles are to be used to provide childcare only, and not for the purposes of different households mixing where they are otherwise not allowed to do so.

The tiers of restriction for education and childcare, summarised in annex 3 of the contain framework and in guidance on higher education, are separate to the local COVID alert level framework. Decisions on any restrictions necessary in education or childcare settings are taken separately on a case-by-case basis in the light of local circumstances, including information about the incidence and transmission of COVID-19.

Visiting relatives in care homes

You should not visit a care home except in exceptional circumstances, for example to visit an individual who is at the end of their life. See the guidance on visiting relatives in care homes.

Travel

You may continue to travel to venues or amenities which are open, for work, or to access education, within a very high alert level area, but you should and aim to reduce the number of journeys you make. If you need to travel we encourage you to walk or cycle where possible, or to plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes on public transport. This will allow you to practise social distancing while you travel.

If you need to use public transport, you should follow the safer travel guidance. This includes the rules on wearing face masks and advice on car sharing.

In addition, 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.

You may also do so where necessary as part of a longer journey – such as when a journey between lower risk areas passes through a very high alert level area, or when going to an airport, port or international rail terminal to travel abroad.

Remember, you must not travel if you are experiencing any coronavirus symptoms, are self-isolating as a result of coronavirus symptoms, are sharing a household or support bubble with somebody with symptoms, or have been told to self-isolate after being contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

If you are travelling, you must only do so with members of your household or support bubble, and should follow the safer travel guidance.

If you are a resident in a very high alert level area, we ask you to avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK, except if you need to for work, education or caring responsibilities. This means we are asking you not to leave the very high alert level area to stay in a second home, if you own one. You must not stay with anyone you do not live with elsewhere in the UK or visit their home.

We are asking everyone who lives elsewhere to avoid staying overnight in a very high alert level area where possible, except for those who need to for work, education or caring responsibilities. You must not stay with anyone you do not live with from a very high alert level area or visit their home.

If you are resident in a very high alert level area, you may travel to hotels and other guest accommodation within that area but you should only do this with people in your household or support bubble.

When considering travelling internationally, you should look at the rules in place at your destination, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) travel advice and the current travel corridor list.

Weddings, civil partnerships, religious services and funerals

You can attend places of worship for a service if you’re in a very high alert level area. However, you must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble. You should follow the national guidance on the safe use of places of worship.

Wedding and civil partnership ceremonies must only take place in COVID-secure venues or in public outdoor spaces unless in exceptional circumstances. Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are restricted to 15 people. Receptions must not take place in a very high alert level area.

Funerals must only take place in COVID-secure venues or in public outdoor spaces with up to 30 people in attendance. Wakes or linked ceremonial events before or after the funeral are limited to 15 people and must not take place in private homes. Where food or drink is consumed, this should be in the form of a sit-down meal to ensure people can keep their distance from each other.

Anyone working at a wedding, civil partnership ceremony, wake or funeral is not generally counted as part of the limit. Within these larger gatherings, people do not need to limit their interaction to groups of 6 or their own household, but social distancing should still be followed between people who do not live together or share a support bubble.

People living outside of a very high alert level area can travel to this area to attend an event, but they must not meet with another household in a private home or garden and we are asking them not to stay overnight.

Read the guidance on small marriages and civil partnerships and guidance on managing a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sport and physical activity

Additional restrictions may apply depending on discussions between central and local government. Find out what additional measures apply in your area.

You can take part in organised outdoor sport and physical activity, including exercise classes, in any number, provided this follows the relevant guidance (for team sports, or for other outdoor licensed physical activity and exercise classes).

Organised sport, exercise classes and other activity groups are only permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with people they do not live with (or share a support bubble with). Where it is likely that households (or support bubbles) will mix, these activities must not go ahead. Social interaction before and after any sport or exercise should be limited to people from the same household or support bubble.

There are exceptions for disability sport, sport for educational purposes and supervised sport and physical activity for under-18s, which can take place in any number.

You should follow the guidance on:

Moving home

You can still move home if you’re in a very high alert level area.

Estate and letting agents and removals firms can continue to work and people looking to move home can continue to undertake viewings.

Follow the national guidance on moving home safely, which includes advice on social distancing and wearing a face covering.

Financial support

Wherever you live, you may be able to get financial help through the:

Published 12 October 2020