Coronavirus restrictions: What is the picture across the UK?

It has been a game of snakes and ladders in terms of coronavirus restrictions across the UK this week, with some countries softening measures while others prepare to ramp them up.

There was some good news for those forced to self-isolate as quarantine times were reduced, and people in both Scotland and Northern Ireland have been granted a little more freedom.

But school is out early in Wales as the R number creeps up, and London is on the brink of the toughest Tier 3 rules.

Here’s what you need to know about the current situation.

UK

All four nations have agreed the quarantine time for contacts of a positive coronavirus case and for those arriving from non-travel corridor countries will be cut from 14 to 10 days.

The UK’s chief medical officers announced on Friday they are “confident” the move is safe following a review of the evidence.

Coronavirus
Coronavirus

In a joint statement, they said those who test positive for Covid-19 should continue to self-isolate for 10 days from the onset of symptoms, or from taking a positive test if asymptomatic.

“We urge everyone to self-isolate when appropriate, it will save lives,” they added.

England

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has laid on extra community testing and more police on the ground to get people to stick to the rules in a bid to stave off the prospect of the capital being placed in Tier 3.

Mr Khan said there are now 10 extra mobile testing units, with up to 30 additional police officers on patrol this weekend “to provide on the ground capacity”.

Coronavirus – Thu Dec 10, 2020
Coronavirus – Thu Dec 10, 2020

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday he is “particularly concerned” about the number of cases in London, Kent and Essex, and the data shows “by far” the fastest rise is among 11 to 18-year-olds.

Mr Hancock told a Downing Street briefing on Thursday: “We need to do everything we can to stop the spread among school-age children in London right now.”

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said on Friday the Government’s main priority is keeping schools open.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Dowden said: “As a Government we are doing everything we can first of all to prioritise kids remaining in schools, and the vast majority of children remain in schools.”

Northern Ireland

There was good news in Northern Ireland on Friday as non-essential businesses reopened their doors following a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown.

Shops, the hospitality sector, the beauty industry and other close contact services were closed under lockdown measures aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus.

Coronavirus
Coronavirus

Cinemas, museums, galleries and gyms also reopened, while church services resumed and limits on numbers at weddings and funerals also increased.

But pubs that do not serve food are still closed, and there are limits on household mixing in restaurants, with closing time set at 11pm at the latest.

First Minister Arlene Foster said the fact the reproduction rate of the virus has dropped to “around 1” had given the Executive the “headroom” to proceed with the reopenings.

But Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann warned a “festive free-for-all” would be “catastrophic” for the region’s under-pressure hospital system.

Scotland

Businesses in large parts of Scotland were also thrown a lifeline this week, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon softening measures in all areas previously placed in Level 4.

Eleven council areas including Glasgow, the Lanarkshires and Stirling had been in the toughest restrictions since November 20.

They all moved down to Level 3 on Friday, meaning non-essential shops were permitted to reopen from 6am and hospitality businesses can welcome customers once more from Saturday.

Shoppers
Shoppers

Pubs, cafes and restaurants still have to close their doors by 6pm if they are in a Level 3 area, and they cannot serve alcohol.

Five council areas elsewhere in Scotland also saw restrictions eased, giving people greater freedoms including buying alcohol with a meal in Level 2, or to buy a drink without food in bars and restaurants in Level 1.

Wales

It is a much gloomier picture in Wales going into the weekend, with secondary schools returning to online learning from Monday.

Welsh Education Minister Kirsty Williams said the decision followed advice from the country’s chief medical officer that the public health situation is “deteriorating”.

Although almost half of schools have recorded no Covid-19 cases, Ms Williams said “it is important we all make a contribution” in reducing transmission.

She said the Welsh Government has been told “a move to online learning should be implemented for secondary school pupils as soon as is practicable”.