Q&A: Where can I still travel to under the new coronavirus tier system?

On Monday, the UK government introduced a new three-tier system of local Covid alert levels in England. This means different areas have different restrictions. The new English levels are medium (tier 1), high (tier 2), and very high (tier 3). Tier 1 carries on with the rules that came in on 25 September, including the Rule of Six and 10pm closing for pubs and restaurants. Tier 2, soon to include nearly half the population of England, bans indoor mixing between households. Tier 3 (currently the Liverpool region and parts of Lancashire) closes any pubs that don’t serve “substantial” meals and advises people not to travel out of or outsiders to stay in the area.

Meanwhile, Wales is banning visitors from Covid hotspots (that’s anyone living in tier 2 or 3) from Friday evening, while Scotland advises against travelling into or out of high-risk areas. Under Northern Ireland’s new rules, most hotels are shut and “no unnecessary travel should be undertaken”.

Which areas are in tier 2?
Tier 2 currently covers large parts of the Midlands, north-east and north-west England, including areas around Newcastle, Tyneside and Manchester, as well as Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham. From midnight on Friday they will be joined by London, parts of Cumbria, Essex, Derbyshire, Surrey and Yorkshire, meaning more than half the population of England will be living with tier 2 or 3 restrictions. A government postcode checker tells you which areas are in which tier.

Can I travel to other parts of the UK if I live in a tier 2 area?
Yes. You can still go on holiday to most areas, but only with people in your household or bubble. The tier 2 guidelines suggest people aim to “reduce the number of journeys you make where possible”. Friday evening sees a ban on visitors to Wales from Covid hotspots elsewhere in the UK. This means anyone from England’s tier 2 and 3 areas, Northern Ireland and the Scottish central belt. In Scotland, until at least Monday 26 October, people in the central belt areas are advised to limit travel.

What about days out in tier 2 areas?
Many visitor attractions have introduced booking systems and some have reduced their hours, but most are open again and pleasantly uncrowded. As they do everywhere, restaurants and bars now have to shut at 10pm and often need to be booked in advance as they are limiting numbers. But, as long as you only visit as a household group (or keep to six outdoors), you can still go for a day out in tier 2 areas.

What if I don’t want to travel? Can I get a refund?
It varies. Some hotels and self-catering companies are offering refunds; others are offering a credit note or new dates. Under the new system, most places are still open and bookable, so customers might be liable for cancellation fees. In many cases, owners will agree to let holidaymakers postpone or provide a refund, but they are not obliged to. Whereas the ban on visiting Wales is legally enforceable, the restrictions in England (even for tier 3) are just guidelines.

Alistair Handyside of the Professional Association of Self-Caterers (PASC) points out that in the current situation English law leaves a lot of grey areas. The number one question, he says, from people booking accommodation these days is: “What happens if I need to cancel?” He advises people to read the T&Cs thoroughly and to take out travel insurance if they can. Some insurance companies offer coronavirus coverage (for instance, to help if you contract the virus after booking), but generally can’t cover the cancellation of your trips if they’re not legally impossible. Handyside points out that self-catering is a relatively safe sector and that the PASC cleaning protocols have been downloaded more than 100,000 times. With the number of cancellations, he adds, there are “some really gorgeous places available”.

Mike Bevens, managing director of the glamping site Canopy & Stars, says that so far this year the company has been able to change more than 90% of its bookings for stays affected by coronavirus. They advise people to check their own local restrictions and those of the area they are hoping to visit before booking. If the rules change, they can probably offer a change of date. If that proves impossible, they can look into other options, which might include a refund.

What about travelling abroad from a tier 2 area?
Yes, you are still allowed to holiday abroad. But it’s complicated. The government’s travel corridor lists countries you can still fly to that don’t involve the need to quarantine when you return. At the time of going to press there are only four countries UK travellers can visit without quarantining on their return. More importantly, the only places where people from the UK don’t need to isolate when they arrive there are: Gibraltar, Greece and Sweden. In Germany, tourists from several areas of the UK are supposed to isolate, but might be allowed to travel freely after a negative test result.

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