Understanding the COVID Alert Levels

Understanding the COVID Alert Levels

Key Contact: Claire Knowles

Author: Adam McGlynn

The Prime Minister has announced a new three-tiered system of local COVID alert levels which take effect in England from Wednesday 14 October 2020. The rationale behind this reform is to simplify and standardise Coronavirus rules and restrictions following rising infection rates and concerns that existing systems are complicated and disproportionately implemented.

The new system will include three alert levels: medium, high, and very high. Information on what alert levels apply to which regions can be found on the gov.uk website HERE. Below is a summary of the restrictions which apply at each level. Guidance on sanitation, face coverings, and social distancing continues to apply across all levels and travel between regions of different levels is discouraged.

Medium – Currently applying to the whole of England

  • Social gatherings are limited to 6 people unless all part of a household or support bubble or an exemption applies (the rule of six).
  • Businesses can remain open, including leisure and hospitality venues, but may be subject to curfews, face covering obligations, and data collection obligations.
  • Employees should attend work, but employers should follow COVID-secure guidelines.
  • Students can attend schools and universities, but additional guidance may apply.
  • Places of worship remain open, subject to the rule of six.
  • Weddings and receptions are restricted to 15 attendees, and outdoor funerals to 30.
  • Indoor sport and exercise can continue subject to the rule of six.

High – Supplements the Medium level rules for areas of concern

  • You cannot gather indoors with anyone outside of your household or support bubble but the rule of 6 continues to apply to outdoor gatherings.
  • Businesses can remain open, including leisure and hospitality venues, but may be closed by law, subject to a curfew, or require patrons to remain seated.
  • Indoor sport and exercise with others from different households/ support bubbles is prohibited.

Very High – Supplements the High level rules for areas of the greatest concern

  • In addition to the gathering restrictions at High level, you cannot gather in most outdoor spaces with anyone outside of your household or support bubble. Some exceptions include parks, beaches, and playgrounds which remain subject to the rule of 6.
  • Pubs and bars must close unless they operate as a restaurant.
  • Local authorities may close additional venues including entertainment venues and gyms.
  • Wedding receptions must not take place.

Additional guidance applies to those individuals categorised as clinically extremely vulnerable.


As the UK has adapted to the Coronavirus pandemic it has become possible to introduce more flexible and focused responses. However, as infection rates have increased in recent weeks, discrepancies and inadequacies in local approaches have become apparent. It is hoped that this new system will result in greater simplicity and consistency. However, the restrictions at each level, especially ‘very high’ have built in flexibility, meaning that different businesses and local authorities can respond differently both within and across regions. Though the new system provides some general guidance, discrepancies in application are likely to cause continuing confusion. At the point of writing this three-tier system only applies to England and so existing local lockdown restrictions will continue to apply across the devolved nations.

If you are concerned about what restrictions may apply to your business, want to implement necessary changes efficiently, or need support managing staff and headcount during periods of reduced workload or closure, please contact our Employment team.

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