Key messages about the tier system and Christmas Bubbles

Following our transition out of lockdown and into the tier system, we would like to highlight some of the key points about the restrictions in place between now and 23 December (the date upon which Christmas Bubble restrictions and guidance come into play).

Our Public Health team has made it clear that Tier 1 status does not mean we should relax our efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The graph below shows the effect of lockdown on case numbers in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and clearly demonstrates that cases decrease when social contact is limited. You do make a difference when you act with caution and how we all behave between now and the roll out of a vaccine could mean the difference between our region's hospitals and services being able to cope and them being overwhelmed.


Rachel Wigglesworth, Director of Public Health for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly said: ‘the current Tier 1 status in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly reflects a great deal of sacrifice and compassion from both residents and visitors to the South West, who have behaved sensibly in order to preserve and support our vital services and save lives. Whilst being in the lowest tier of government restrictions affords our community certain greater freedoms, I urge everyone to remember the bigger picture. Just because we CAN do something not permitted by the restrictions in the higher tiers, doesn't necessarily mean we should.’

‘The potential for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to be impacted significantly as a result of an increase in the spread of the virus is ever-present whichever restrictions are in place and we must all take our individual responsibility seriously when making decisions about our level of social contact.’

Moving between tiers

If you are planning to travel between now and 23 December, please bear in mind the rules for moving between tiers.

Anyone wishing to travel to the islands from a Tier 2 or Tier 3 area, must continue to act in line with the restrictions in the area they have come from even though their host family are only subject to Tier 1 restrictions. Government guidance states, however, that travel from Tier 3 is to be avoided except for very specific circumstances and you should not leave a Tier 3 area to stay in a second home.

Those wishing to travel from Scilly to a Tier 2 or Tier 3 area should follow the rules for that area while there. Travel to a Tier 3 area, however, should be avoided except for specific circumstances.

University students and those 16-18 year-olds in higher education returning to Scilly are allowed to change their household temporarily (and only once) to return home for Christmas. This means that they immediately adopt the tier of the household they have joined on arrival.

In every tier, the following rules apply:

  • You must wear a face covering in most indoor public settings, unless a specific exemption applies
  • You should follow the rules on meeting others safely
  • You should attend school or college as normal, unless self-isolating. Schools, universities, colleges and early years settings remain open in all tiers
  • You should walk or cycle where possible, plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes when travelling

Don’t forget, if you are planning to travel over Christmas, you can keep up to date with which areas are in which tiers by using the government’s postcode checker. You should check the areas to which you intend to travel following each government review of the tier allocations, the first of which is due on 16 December.

Please act within the spirit of the rules

Social restrictions can be difficult to understand and get used to, but residents across Scilly and Cornwall have done an amazing job in sticking to them. If you’re ever in doubt, please act within the spirit of the guidance and err on the side of caution. It can be tempting to find ways of interpreting the guidance to suit your needs or look for ways of bending the rules - but you must consider whether this is fair to those you interact with as everything we do can have unintended consequences.

The graphic below illustrates a real example in Cornwall where 12 friends went out to dinner and booked 2 tables of 6 next to each other. One person in the group had coronavirus but didn't realise - they then passed it on to 3 further friends as well as the waitress serving the tables. This resulted in 3 small businesses and offices having to close. These people passed the virus onto their households and ultimately 18 people were infected following this single night out. The rules clearly restrict interaction to a maximum of 6 people, and by stretching these rules in this instance, lots more people were put at risk and contracted the virus.

Christmas Bubbles

If you are thinking of forming a Christmas Bubble between 23 and 27 December, please ensure you read the guidance well in advance and bear in mind that you should reduce unnecessary contact with people you do not live with as much as possible in the 2 weeks before you do so. This means that if you form your Christmas Bubble on 23 December, you must begin to reduce your social contact by Wednesday 9 December.

The rules on forming and using a Christmas Bubble will be the law. There are three main rules and you must follow them to minimise the spread of infection:

  1. you can only be in one Christmas Bubble
  2. you cannot change your Christmas Bubble
  3. your Christmas Bubble should not include people from more than three households

It is important that you keep your Christmas Bubble as small as possible. Please also be careful how you interact with those within your Christmas Bubble. Household transmission is one of the main sources of spread within the region right now and there is the additional risk that people within your Christmas Bubble will be new contacts. The following precautionary measures remain necessary:

  • wash your hands and sanitise surfaces regularly
  • keep indoor spaces well ventilated
  • keep your distance wherever possible - and especially in relation to vulnerable groups, such as those with health problems
  • wear a mask if you think it is sensible to do so

Remember, just because you can form a Christmas Bubble, doesn’t mean you should, or have to. Please be sensitive to those who may not wish to do so and avoid putting pressure on them. If you choose not to form a Christmas Bubble, you must continue to follow the ‘rule of six.’

You must not form a Christmas Bubble if you are self-isolating. The full guidance on Making a Christmas Bubble with friends and family can be found here.

If you have any further questions relating to coronavirus, please email

Please note that Christmas Bubbles, Support Bubbles and Childcare Bubbles are all different things and have their own specific rules so please make sure follow the guidance carefully.

And of course, always remember, ‘Hands. Face. Space’:

  • hands – wash your hands regularly and for 20 seconds
  • face – wear a face covering in indoor settings where social distancing may be difficult, and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet
  • space – stay 2 metres apart from people you do not live with where possible, or 1 metre with extra precautions in place (such as wearing face coverings)

Here's Whitney Curry, Advanced Public Health Practitioner, on the main things we should consider when deciding what to do over the festive period:

Whitney and the wider Public Health team have had a busy year, so let's help them Keep Scilly Safe this Christmas! 

Publishing date: 
Friday, 4 December, 2020