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Covid in the UK: Time to get up to date with the rules

By Alice Evans
BBC News

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  • Coronavirus pandemic
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Millions of us are facing fresh curbs on our freedoms this weekend, after a busy week of developments in the fight against Covid. So what's happening and how do the changes affect you?

Early on the stars of virus vocab included Covidiots, superspreaders, and Zoom-bombing. As "circuit-breaker" and "tier three" grapple for position on the newest page of the already-oversized Covid phrasebook, here's an attempt to make things a little simpler for you.

I've made myself a brew, so tell me, what's new?

All four UK nations have responded to a surge in coronavirus cases by tightening up restrictions.

In England, the government's brought in a new system of rules, as it presses on with its local approach to tackling outbreaks. Every area has been given a Covid alert level - with a corresponding tier - based on the risk the virus poses. Tier one is for medium risk areas, tier two for high risk and tier three for very high risk.

The rules you must follow depend upon which tier you live in. Since the system came into effect on Wednesday, several areas have moved up a tier - with Lancashire the latest to hit "very high risk" status. It's still unclear whether Greater Manchester will follow.

Local leaders in very high risk areas can add their own extra restrictions, so keep an eye on what your local authority is saying to make sure you're sticking to all the rules.

In the next couple of weeks, Scotland is planning to adopt a similar, multi-tiered system to England. Northern Ireland has entered a so-called "circuit-breaker" (see below for an attempted definition) with a blanket closure of pubs, restaurants and cafes to sit-in customers. Schools will be shut for at least two weeks by lengthening the half-term holiday. Wales could face similar measures as soon as Monday, as officials use the weekend to mull over a "fire-break" period.

  • Can I stay at my partner's in a Tier 2 area? And other questions
  • How will the tier system work?

Between me writing this piece on Friday evening and you reading it over breakfast on Saturday, rules will have tightened for millions of people across the country. As things change rapidly, your best bet for staying up to date with the rules where you live is to use our postcode look-up tool:

A modern browser with JavaScript and a stable internet connection is required to view this interactive.

If you cannot see the look-up click here.

And don't forget the basic methods of keeping yourself and others safe from the virus: wash your hands often, wear a face covering in certain public places, and socially distance.

Can you tell me what 'circuit-breaker' means (and, while you're at it, 'fire-break')?

An electrical circuit-breaker is an automatic switch which detects faults and stops power flowing through a device, to prevent it from overheating or short-circuiting.

The UK is, metaphorically speaking, that faulty device.

The phrase "circuit-breaker" is being used to describe a short, nationwide lockdown, to help slow the spread of Covid-19.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for a circuit-breaker in England, after it emerged that the government's scientific advisers said it would be a good idea. As my colleague James Gallagher points out, the hope is a circuit-breaker would be less damaging - to the economy and to people's mental health - than the first lockdown we had.

Not everyone is buying into the electrical metaphor. Wales's First Minister Mark Drakeford has instead termed the possibility of a two-week lockdown a "fire-break", designed to bring the virus rate down and help "get us through to Christmas".

media captionThe BBC's Laura Foster explains what a circuit breaker is and how it could help tackle Covid-19

Okay, got it (ish). But why are the extra rules needed?

We measure the epidemic in several different ways, but coronavirus cases are definitely rising.

Infections are going up rapidly, with an estimated 27,900 new cases a day in homes in England in the seven days up to 8 October - a 60% increase on the previous week - according to the Office for National Statistics. This figure is far higher than the number of confirmed cases announced by the government each day - which has risen to a daily average of 16,228 in the past week.

Also, the reproduction (R) number has risen slightly in the past week to between 1.3 and 1.5, according to the latest estimate. R is the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to, so at the moment every 10 people infected in the UK will go on to infect between 13 and 15 others.

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I'm no longer struggling to understand. But I am struggling to cope

There is some hope. Despite the continued rise in cases, experts have pointed out we are no longer seeing the runaway increase of a fortnight ago. And last month's morbid warning from scientists that the UK could face 50,000 cases a day by mid-October has not happened.

With NHS Nightingale hospitals on standby, new financial support schemes, newly understood treatments, and protections for care homes, we are arguably better prepared for the second wave of coronavirus than we were for the first.

But the ongoing uncertainty we face as we head into winter is not easy. If you're finding things tough, you're not alone - and these mental health and well-being organisations can help.

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