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How does the new ‘COVID-19 Winter Plan’ impact travel?

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The Government published its ‘COVID-19 Winter Plan’ this afternoon. You can see all 64 pages on the Government website here. Note that, until the legal text is published and approved by MPs, it is not clear what is advisory and what would constitute an offence.

I wanted to take a quick look at how this will impact travel. If you have concerns about gyms, shops, churches etc then you will need to study the document.


These rules are expected to be in force until the Spring so it is important to be familiar with them.

Can I travel again?

Yes. Here is the key point. From 2nd December, there are no restrictions on domestic or international travel except as per the new tier system below.

(There never were restrictions on international travel, of course. You are not meant to leave your home for non-work, shopping or educational reasons, but travel per se is not banned except as a by-product of not leaving your home.)

Will UK hotels re-open?

It will depend on the tier level of the area to which you are travelling or where you live.

In Tier 1 and Tier 2, hotels can open.

In Tier 3, the situation continues as at present. Hotels must close to leisure guests but can open for business travellers.

The allocation of regions to different tiers will be published later in the week.

If you live in a Tier 3 area, the document states that you should not travel to a hotel in a Tier 1 or Tier 2 area. Until we see the legislation we will not know if this is advisory or the law.

It is unlikely that you will be restricted from leaving the country if you live in a Tier 3 area. However, you may be banned from – for example – staying in a hotel at Heathrow if Heathrow is in Tier 2 and you live in Tier 3.

Will hotel bars and restaurants in Tier 1 and Tier 2 be restricted?

In Tier 2, a hotel bar would need to close unless it was restricted to serving alcohol with meals. Room service drinks are currently available for hotel stays so are likely to continue.

In both Tier 1 and Tier 2, bars and restaurants will need to close at 11pm with last orders taken by 10pm.

Will hotel executive lounges open?

It isn’t fully clear. As these are private ‘residents only’ facilities they operate under different rules. However, as the majority of lounges were already closed before the November restrictions began, it is difficult to see many reopening before the Spring.

Will hotel leisure facilities be open?

Gyms and swimming pools can open in ALL areas of the UK. Even a hotel in Tier 3 which is closed to leisure guests could open its gym and pool to the public.

United coronavirus transmission study mannequin

Can I travel in the UK with other people?

If you live in a Tier 3 area, you should not leave it. It is not clear if this is advisory or if it will be made a criminal offence.

For everyone else, you would not be able to share a hotel room in a Tier 2 area with anyone who was not in your immediate family or support bubble due to the ban on indoor mixing.

If you stayed in separate rooms, you would not be able to eat indoors with your other guests.

In Tier 1 areas a group of six would be allowed to visit a hotel, mix room allocations and eat as a group.

Hotels will be closed in Tier 3 areas for leisure purposes.

Is the hotel VAT reduction continuing?

Yes. Hotels in the UK will continue to pay just 5% VAT until 31st March 2021.

Was there an announcement on reduced quarantine for those returning from overseas?

No. Despite hints in the media, there was no announcement of the expected cut in the 14 day self-isolation period to five days, providing a negative test is taken on Day 5.

The full ‘COVID-19 Winter Plan’ is here.

Comments (159)

  • Sam G says:

    Sure you’ve seen already Rob but Test and Release was announced in the early hours – as of 15th Dec you can pay for a test after 5 days (from an as yet unpublished govt approved list) and escape once you have a negative result. Good news for anyone returning for Xmas!

    I am watching with interest as I’m arriving back on the 8th from some essential travel, wondering if I’ll be allowed to test and shave off a couple of days (or do I need to hop out on the 15th !)

    • Sam G says:

      EDIT: just re-read it and it states

      Passengers will be able to book a test from a provider on a GOV.UK list before arriving in England. If they choose to book a test, they will need to state this on their passenger locator form prior to arriving and then go straight into self-isolation at home as usual. If they choose to opt in after arrival, they will need to resubmit their passenger locator form”

      So I suspect those arriving before the 15th won’t be able to resubmit and for me I doubt it’d be worth it anyway, but those arriving nearer the time will want to keep an eye (though it will be worth considering delaying your arrival slightly!)

  • John says:

    “Gyms and swimming pools can open in ALL areas of the UK. Even a hotel in Tier 3 which is closed to leisure guests could open its gym and pool to the public.”

    In fact, Gyms, swimming pools, tennis courts, golf courses, fitness studios etc must close from 27 November in Northern Ireland (and Nicola Sturgeon may well have some issues about this as well).

    • Michael C says:

      I think “COULD open” is key here – my local hotel pool has been closed since March, sadly.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      This is all clearly for England only

      Rob just hasn’t made that explicit in the article.

  • Chrisasaurus says:

    Anyone already know what the rules look like around travelling to Northern Ireland from England after Dec 2 but before their current restriction period ends?

    • Anna says:

      I would think it depends more on the NI rules than the UK ones. I posted a link the other day to the NI government website with the details.

      • Ryan says:

        NI executive is just asking people to ‘think carefully’ about travel. The only restrictions in place are the quarantine requirements which tend to be the same countries as England.

  • Andrew says:

    It is only “guidance” not to leave a Tier 3 area, which is the same as before the lockdown. The wording is “avoid” rather than “must not”:

    • Anna says:

      Just need to find out which areas are in Tier 3!

      • Andrew says:

        Although my point was more that it doesn’t make a difference as it’s only guidance not a rule.

        • Anna says:

          I know – but there’s no point in travelling to a Tier 3 area if all hospitality is closed, which was my point!

          • Andrew says:

            I think we’re talking about two different things then – my point was about being able to travel out of a tier 3 area to a tier 2 area and you’re talking about the other way around.

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Agree. No idea why Rob has put

      If you live in a Tier 3 area, the document states that you should not travel to a hotel in a Tier 1 or Tier 2 area.

      It clearly says AVOID not should not.

    • ThinkSquare says:

      It’s guidance not to leave but it says “no overnight stays”, which sounds mandatory to me

  • Michael C says:

    Wonder what the “providers on a GOV.UK list” will be like?! Bearing in mind 25-28 are all effectively public holidays, hope they’re a little flexi! Guess we’ll find out v quickly as passengers can book in advance before arrival.

    • Anna says:

      And how much will they charge?! Given that I’ve seen official tests in other countries costing in the region of 30 euros, there are some huge profits being made in the UK.

      • The real John says:

        It will be around £150 unless airports/airlines make a deal with test providers

      • Mr. AC says:

        The fully private blood antibody tests (IgM) right now can be had for ~75 quid, so I expect it will be around that.

        • Sam G says:

          It can be the rapid tests according to the Daily Mail, so that should see the cost reduced & options over the holidays

  • ChrisW says:

    I think people will be disappointed with just how much of the country is placed into Tier 3 vs Tier 2. I would expect the major cities like LON, MAN and BHX to be Tier 3

    • Andrew says:

      Indeed, the PM was very much managing expectations yesterday that many areas would be going up a tier. Not looking good for the Marriott £400 meals.

    • Ken says:

      Agree – not least due to the sheer numbers in hospital with Covid in most areas.

    • Rhys says:

      Look at the local numbers. London cases per 100,000 are significantly lower than those for Manchester and Birmingham.

      • ChrisW says:

        But low enough to warrant Tier 2?

      • Ken says:

        More than half of London Boroughs are close or more than 200 and most going in the wrong direction.

        Most are higher than Liverpool (where 30% of case figures come from the non symptom testing program).

        If you are using ‘better than greater Manchester’ as an argument then it’s not a great starting point.

      • Rich says:

        Cases per 100k only part of the story. Is it going up or down, accelerating or flattening? Where in the population is it? How close is local healthcare to being overtopped?

  • Crafty says:

    I expect we (Greater Manchester) will be in Tier 3, and relatives will be in Tier 2. I’m clear we can’t travel to them. But can they travel to us (i.e. into Tier 3), and then home again? Obviously not staying either at ours in a hotel…

    • Anna says:

      There are no restrictions on travel, as per the comments above! So it’s fine to meet up outdoors in public for up to 6 people.
      Tier 3 is going to be a nightmare for hospitality. I tried to book a tentative Saturday night at the Kimpton Clocktower and they said they are fully booked with people wanting short breaks! That’s not looking very likely now.

  • mradey says:

    Your papers, please.

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