Scotland 5 tier system: the Scottish government’s new multi-level framework for tackling coronavirus explained - and when it starts

Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that bars and restaurants in the central belt should remain closed for another week

The First Minister has announced the introduction of a five-tier plan of measures for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic in Scotland.

The new system will first need to pass a vote at Holyrood, with measures due to come into place on November 2.

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Speaking at her press briefing on Friday 23 October, Nicola Sturgeon said the changes are required to help Scotland live with coronavirus, and can apply to specific council areas or nationwide if necessary.

The introduction of the new system could coincide with the end of the current restrictions, on 25 October (Photo: Fraser Bremner - Pool/Getty Images)
The introduction of the new system could coincide with the end of the current restrictions, on 25 October (Photo: Fraser Bremner - Pool/Getty Images)

Citizens of Scotland are now waiting in anticipation to see which tier of restrictions their area of the country is placed under.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had previously unveiled England’s three tiered lockdown system in the House of Commons on Monday 12 October.

What did Nicola Sturgeon say?

Ms Sturgeon said: “We do not envisage returning to a situation as severe as the first lockdown imposed back in late March.”

She stressed Scotland is “not back at square one”, and the framework is intended to build on the progress made in tackling the virus.

The levels will be reviewed on a weekly basis, the First Minister said.

How do the tiers in Scotland work?

Nicola Sturgeon broke down the tiers as follows:

Level 0: “Broadly comparable to the position we reached in August when the virus was very suppressed in Scotland but still a threat. At this level we would be able to meet indoors with eight people from three households and most businesses would be open, albeit with safety measures in place.”

Level 1: “Sees slightly more restrictions, household meetings would reduce to six people from two households but there would still be a reasonable degree of normality overall.”

Level 2: “Entails restrictions broadly similar to those currently in place just now outside the central belt, so limitations on hospitality and no gatherings inside people’s homes.”

Level 3: “Broadly similar to the tougher restrictions which currently apply across the central belt, with much of hospitality being closed completely. There are however some key differences, for example we envisage restaurants being able to be open at least partially in Level 3.”

Level 4: “The highest level, which of course we would not use unless absolutely necessary, would apply when transmission rates are, or are threatening to become, very high with corresponding pressure on the NHS and perhaps the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed.”

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How does Scotland’s system compare to England?

In England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced a three tiered system for local Covid-19 alerts.

He said, “We will simplify and standardise our local rules, by introducing a three tiered system of local covid alerts in England set at medium, high and very high.”

With each tier, there comes different regulations and measurements.


The medium tier is for areas where national restrictions continue to be in place.

This means:

- All businesses and venues can continue to operate (in a Covid-19 secure way), other than those which are to remain closed by law, such as nightclubs

- Certain businesses selling food or drink on their premise are required to close between 10pm and 5am

- Businesses and venues sell food for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm, as long as this is through a delivery service, click and collect or drive through

- Schools, universities and places of worship can continue to operate

- Weddings and funerals can go ahead under restriction on the number of attendees

- Organised indoor sport and exercise classes can continue, as long as they follow the ‘rule of six’

- People cannot meet in groups larger than six, indoors or outdoors


The high alert level is for areas with a higher level of infections, which would see the implementation of the following rules:

- People must not meet with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place

- People must not meet in a group of more than six outside, including in a garden or other space

- People should aim to reduce the number of journeys they make where possible - if they need to travel, they should walk or cycle where possible, or plan ahead to avoid busy times and routes on public transport

Very high

This is the highest level of the new system, and is for areas with a very high level of infections.

The government has set a baseline of measures for any areas in this alert level, however consultation with local authorities will determine any additional measures.

The baseline measures are:

- Pubs and bars must close, and can only remain where they operate as if they were a restaurant, which means serving substantial meals, like a main lunchtime or evening meal. They may only serve alcohol as part of such a meal

- Wedding receptions are not allowed

- People must not meet with anyone outside of their household or support bubble in any indoor or outdoor setting, whether at home or in public space. The Rule of Six applies in open public spaces like parks or beaches

- People should try to avoid travelling outside the ‘very high’ area they are in, or entering into a ‘very high’ area, other than for things like work or education

- People should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK if they are a resident in a ‘very high’ area, or avoid staying overnight in a ‘very high’ area if they are a resident from elsewhere

What are the current rules in Scotland?

On Wednesday 7 October, Nicola Sturgeon announced a host of new coronavirus restrictions for parts of Scotland.

Across the majority of Scotland, all premises may only open indoors between 6am and 6pm, with no sale of alcohol permitted.

All premises are permitted to open outdoors until 10pm, including for sale of alcohol, if they are licensed to do so.

A maximum of six people from two households can meet in hospitality settings.

There are exceptions to these new rules for:

- takeaways, subject to local licensing

- specific life events (such as weddings or funerals) which may continue with alcohol, as per the current meeting rules e.g 20 person limit in regulated premises

- guests staying in accommodation, for transport and for student residences that are licensed premises

However, for five health board areas, the Scottish government has implemented tougher restrictions.

Those areas are:

- Ayrshire and Arran health board, which comprises East, North and South Ayrshire

- Forth Valley health board, which comprises Clackmannanshire, Falkirk and Stirling

- Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board, which comprises Glasgow City, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire

- Lanarkshire health board, which comprises North and South Lanarkshire

- Lothian health board, which comprises City of Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian and West Lothian

In these five health board areas, the rules state that licensed premises must close, but only the parts of the premise where food and drink is served has to close.

“For example, the bar in a licensed clubhouse would have to close, but the shop could remain open,” the government explains.

Licensed cafes may remain open from 6am to 6pm, without the sale or consumption of alcohol.

Other unlicensed premises may remain open from 6am to 6pm, with meeting rules of a maximum of six people from two households.

No outdoor live events are allowed to take place.

When it comes to travel, government advice states, “Please think about whether you need to travel, specifically if you live in or would be travelling to, or through, the Central Belt.”

Ms Sturgeon added, “We are asking people living in these five health board areas to avoid public transport unless it is absolutely necessary - for example for going to school or work, if home working is not an option.”

It was also announced that group exercise classes for indoor gyms, sport courts and pools are no longer permitted, albeit with an exemption for under 18s.

Contact sports and training has also been banned, with the exception of professional athletes and under 18s.

During her speech on 7 October, Ms Sturgeon said that “gyms can remain open for individual exercise.”

Indoor snooker and pool halls, indoor bowling alleys, casinos and bingo halls have also temporarily closed.