The latest lockdown: what has changed?
On the evening of Monday 4th January, in response to a surge in coronavirus cases, the Prime Minister announced that a new national lockdown would apply to all of England, in force from Tuesday 5th January.
Previously, depending on the threat of coronavirus infections, different parts of England had been subject to restrictions based on a tier system but now the whole country is effectively a Tier 5, which is extremely similar to, but in certain areas different from, the lockdown that was imposed in March 2020.
The new rules in England
People will have to stay at home and only go out for essential reasons, which include:
Work, in circumstances where working from home is not reasonably possible (such as construction or manufacturing), including travelling to and from work.
Education, training, childcare and medical appointments and emergencies
Outdoor exercise, although this is now limited to once a day, as was the case in March 2020 (for more detail, see below)
Shopping for essentials, e.g. food and medicine
Communal religious worship
Activities related to moving house
Attending court, including jury service
Employers and employees should discuss their working arrangements, and employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.
International travel, or travel around the UK will only be allowed for essential reasons. Staying overnight away from your main place of residence is only permitted in specified limited circumstances, which does not include holidays.
As was the case in the March 2020 lockdown, primary and secondary schools will move to online learning for all pupils apart from vulnerable and keyworker children, and those undertaking medical or teacher training. This will affect employees with school-age children as they will need to juggle work and home-schooling commitments.
One important factor not present at the start of the March 2020 lockdown was the concept of support bubbles. These were brought in later in the year to help those living alone or separated households. For the latest lockdown, people can meet in a support or childcare bubble and children can also move between separated parents.
Essential businesses and services
Businesses and services classed as essential can remain open to the public. The list of essential businesses includes:
Supermarkets, food shops, pharmacies, building merchants and garden centres
Places of worship
Petrol stations and MOT services
Laundrettes and dry cleaners
Banks and post offices
Estate Agents and removal firms
Doctors and dentists' surgeries, opticians and vets
Car parks, public toilets and playgrounds
People whose work involves going in someone else's home, e.g. nannies, cleaners and tradespeople
Non-essential retail must close, as must leisure and sports facilities, entertainment venues and personal care businesses such as hairdressers and beauty, tanning and nail salons.
Pubs, cafes and restaurants must close, but will still be able to provide takeaway or home delivery services. Alcohol cannot be sold on a takeaway basis but can be delivered.
Exercise will be allowed once per day, with no time limit, but unlike March 2020, a person can take exercise with one other person from their household, providing that they practise social distancing while they do it. They will not, however, be permitted to sit together, even in outdoor spaces. Exercise should be taken in the local area.
Exercise will be an important factor, not just because of its beneficial effects on both physical and mental health but because under the lockdown, all gyms and leisure centres have to close, as well as outdoor team sports.
People in vulnerable and extremely vulnerable health categories will be encouraged to shield, much as was the case in March 2020. They should limit the amount of time they spend outside the house and should only go out for medical appointments, for exercise or another essential need, but not for work or education purposes.
The vaccination programme
A big difference between this lockdown and that of March 2020 is that there is now a viable vaccination programme being rolled out across the UK, with vulnerable groups being given priority at the moment. This gives the country a theoretical end date for pandemic-based restrictions, unlike last March, when there was no way of predicting when the lockdown would end. However, much now hinges on a number of complicated variables. The legislation giving effect to the lockdown lasts until 31st March 2021 but, depending on the effect of the vaccination programme and the current lockdown on infection rates, the Government may be in a position to start lifting restrictions sooner rather than later.
For more information, please see the government guidance here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home