London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will shortly move into the most restrictive tier of COVID-19 restrictions following "very sharp, exponential rises" in the number of cases.
It comes as a new strain of the coronavirus has been identified in southern England.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs the number of cases involving the new variant was "increasing rapidly".
"Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variants," he said.
"We’ve currently identified over 1,000 cases with this variant predominantly in the South of England although cases have been identified in nearly 60 different local authority areas."
Mr Hancock did say, however, there is nothing to suggest the variant would me more likely to cause serious disease and suggested the vaccine should still be effective.
What is the tier system?
Specific areas within England are categorised by a coronavirus alert level.
Following the end of the second lockdown on 2 December, the new system involved the categories: Tier 1 (medium alert), Tier 2 (high alert) and Tier 3 (very high alert).
Each tier bracket means varying levels of social restrictions is imposed, based on COVID case rates, how quickly the rate is changing, pressure on the NHS, positive case rates and rates within the over-60s.
All three tiers require face coverings to be worn in most indoor public settings, unless an individual has a valid reason not to wear one.
When travelling between Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas, you must follow Tier 2 restrictions, while people living in Tier 3 must avoid travelling elsewhere.
Here is a list of locations under each tier group.
Tier 1: Medium Alert
In any of the areas below, you must not socialise in groups larger than six – indoors or outdoors, unless legal exemptions apply.
Places of worship remain open, while organised outdoor sport, physical activity and exercise classes can continue.
Indoor sport must follow the ‘rule of six’, though there are exemptions for disability sport and educational sport.
- Isle of Wight
- Isles of Scilly
Tier 2: High Alert
People in Tier 2 areas must not socialise indoors with anyone they do not live with or share a support bubble with, at home or in public.
Outdoors, the ‘rule of six’ must be followed.
Pubs and bars must close unless operating as restaurants.
Places of worship remain open, while organised outdoor sport, and physical activity and exercise classes can continue.
Indoor sport will only be allowed if it is possible to avoid mixing household and support bubbles, with exceptions for disability and educational sport.
Avoid travel to or overnight stays in Tier 3 areas other than for work, education, youth services, to receive medical treatment, or because of caring responsibilities.
East of England
- Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes
- Cambridgeshire, including Peterborough
- The following local authorities in Essex:
- The following local authorities in Hertfordshire:
- East Hertfordshire
- North Hertfordshire
- St Albans
- Welwyn Hatfield
The local authorities in Essex shown below, are in Tier 2 until 12:01am on 16 December, when they will move into Tier 3:
- Castle Point
- Epping Forest
The local authorities in Hertfordshire shown below, are in Tier 2 until 12:01am on 16 December, when they will move into Tier 3:
- Three Rivers
- All 32 boroughs plus the City of London are in Tier 2 until 12:01am on 16 December, when they will move into Tier 3.
- Liverpool City Region
- Warrington and Cheshire
- Bracknell Forest
- Brighton and Hove
- East Sussex
- Hampshire, including Portsmouth and Southampton
- West Berkshire
- West Sussex
- Windsor and Maidenhead
- Bath and North East Somerset
- Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole
- Devon, including Plymouth and Torbay
- Gloucestershire (Cheltenham, Cotswold, Forest of Dean, Gloucester, Stroud and Tewkesbury)
- Somerset (South Somerset, Somerset West and Taunton, Mendip and Sedgemoor)
- Wiltshire and Swindon
- Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin
- City of York
- North Yorkshire
Tier 3: Very High Alert
Under tighter restrictions, you must not socialise outside of your home or support bubble, both indoors and in most outdoor venues.
Follow the ‘rule of six’ in other outdoor public spaces, including parks, beaches, countryside and sports facilities.
Most hospitality settings will be closed, along with attractions.
Organised outdoor sport, and physical activity and exercise classes can continue, however, higher-risk contact activity should not take place.
Organised sport, physical activity and exercise classes cannot take place indoors, with exceptions for indoor disability sport and educational sport.
- Derby and Derbyshire
- Leicester and Leicestershire
- Nottingham and Nottinghamshire
- North East Combined Authority:
- County Durham
- South Tyneside
- North of Tyne Combined Authority:
- Newcastle upon Tyne
- North Tyneside
- Tees Valley Combined Authority:
- Redcar and Cleveland
- Blackburn with Darwen
- Greater Manchester
- Kent and Medway
- Slough (the rest of Berkshire is tier 2: High alert)
- North Somerset
- South Gloucestershire
- Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton
- Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent
- Warwickshire, Coventry and Solihull
Yorkshire and The Humber
- East Riding of Yorkshire
- Kingston upon Hull/Hull
- North East Lincolnshire
- North Lincolnshire
- South Yorkshire
- West Yorkshire
Cover image: British Army.