What England’s Covid lockdown rules mean for you – and when they could end

England is now at the end of the second week of its nationwide lockdown, which has enforced strict restrictions on people across the country. 

The current lockdown came into effect on Thursday, November 5 and is due to end of December 2, at which point England is expected to go back to the three-tier system.

But the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, suggested on November 19 that the country might not find out what restrictions will be in place after lockdown lifts until December.

Mr Wallace told BBC Breakfast: "The best time to make those decisions about how we can get together for Christmas, how we can get through this festive period, is when we have seen the impact of this lockdown on the figures.

"The best time for me to give you better advice, for the Government to make that decision, is as close to the 2nd of December as possible."

Mr Wallace said he does not want to be "the Grinch that stole Christmas" but he wanted to "protect lives."

The Defence Secretary has also spoken out about what we can expect over the festive period, saying, “I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas" but he went on to add: "More than anything I want us to get through this Covid and try and get this country back to normal."

The Telegraph understands that households across the country could be banned from mixing when lockdown ends, under government plans to ease restrictions over Christmas to allow families five days of freedom.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to NHS Test and Trace, told a Downing Street briefing that Sage scientific advice indicated that "for every day that we release (measures) we will need two days of tighter restrictions" (see video below).

However, Boris Johnson is preparing to announce a UK-wide relaxation of rules from December 22 to 28, allowing several families to join in one "bubble", The Telegraph has revealed.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said on November 17 the Government will be looking at whether the measures in the previous tiers were effective, and didn’t rule out the possibility of introducing a stricter ‘Tier 4’. 

Mr Jenrick said any extension of lockdown would require a vote of Parliament, however, some government officials have warned that the lockdown may last longer.

Tory MPs have since criticised the possibility of strengthening of the lower tiers, labelling it as "grim" and "terrible". 

What do you need to know about the current lockdown?

Measures

The key restrictions from the current lockdown are similar but not identical to the original lockdown in spring. 

They include:

  • Pubs, bars and restaurants must close, although food takeaways and deliveries will be permitted

  • All non-essential retail, leisure and entertainment venues must close

  • A ban on the mixing of households, except for support or childcare reasons. Exercising outdoors with one person from outside of your household is also permitted. 

  • A restriction on travel, including outbound international travel (except for work). Travel within the UK is also discouraged. 

  • Staying at home to be encouraged except for education, work (if impossible from home), medical reasons, shopping for good or essentials, caring for others or exercise.

Unlike the first lockdown, nurseries, schools, colleges and universities will remain open. 

Health minister, Nadine Dorries has also said children under school age who are with their parents will not count towards the limit on two people meeting outside.

The exemption also applies to children and adults who are dependent on round-the-clock care, such as those with severe disabilities, she said.

However, households cannot mix in private gardens – they must meet in a public space such as a park.

Children under the age of 18 are allowed to travel between their parents’ homes if they are separated, enabling both parents to see their children and split childcare duties.

Boris Johnson announced the lockdown on Saturday, October 31, on the same day the UK surpassed 1 million lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus. MPs voted in favour of the proposals on November 4.

Coronavirus UK and regional map ..

The Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, said law enforcement would continue the approach of "policing by consent" to try to get the public to comply with the new lockdown.

Will lockdown end on December 2?

The official government line is varied, but many officials have advised it’s too early to say. 

On November 16, Matt Hancock was unable to promise the lockdown would finish on that date, saying it was “too early” to see if the level of infection would allow the country to fall back into the tier system. 

During the same briefing, Hancock shared that daily cases were still rising in the UK, with 25,329 new daily cases, compared to 22,443 in the previous week. However, it is still too premature to see the effects of the national lockdown.

Boris Johnson insisted on November 5 that the second lockdown would finish on December 2 to give people "as normal a Christmas as possible".

Acknowledging that people are "anxious, weary and fed up", Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference: "This is not a repeat of the spring. These measures – although they are tough, they are time limited.

"The advice I have received suggests that four weeks is enough for these measures to make a real impact.”

Yet Cabinet Minister Michael Gove admitted on Sky News on November 1 that lockdown could be extended beyond December 2 if coronavirus infection rates do not significantly fall, later stating that the government will be "guided by the facts".

Could England’s lockdown be extended?

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has said any extension of lockdown would require a vote of Parliament, however, some government officials have warned that the lockdown may last longer.

The chief medical adviser to NHS Test and Trace, Dr Susan Hopkins, hinted that certain areas might face more severe restrictions than they experienced in the previous tier system, as tiers are more successful in some areas in comparison to others:

She said that the new restrictions would depend on “how fast transmission is occurring and how well the individuals in the population are taking that advice in,” before suggesting that ‘strengthened’ rules may stay in place “until the vaccine is available for everyone.”

What will happen when lockdown ends?

Mr Johnson said in his lockdown announcement on October 31: "We will seek to ease restrictions, going back into the tiered system on a local and regional basis according to the latest data and trends."

Mr Jenrick revealed on November 17 the Government will be looking at whether the measures in the previous Tiers were effective, and didn’t rule out the possibility of introducing a stricter ‘Tier 4’. 

Mr Jenrick suggested the government could "embed" extra measures into the new tier system, but said they would take the "evidence-based approach" to see which were the most impactful on the virus.

When asked about the introduction of a stricter "Tier 4", Mr Jenrick said: "We haven’t come to a decision on that, but the three tiers that we had before, was just considered a baseline."

The new measures could be announced next week, he suggested:

The tier system, dubbed "Local Covid Alert Levels" – divides England into "medium" (Tier 1), "high" (Tier 2) and "very high" (Tier 3) risk areas depending on the current rate of Covid-19 infections.

The traffic light system works on a regional level to help stop the spread of the virus.

It is not yet clear which areas will go into which tier, but the restrictions that apply with each tier currently remain the same.

Tier 1

The lowest level of restrictions instructs people to abide by the rule of six and the closure of venues at 10pm.

  • All businesses and venues can continue to operate, in a Covid-secure manner, other than those that remain closed in law, such as nightclubs and adult entertainment venues
  • Certain businesses selling food or drink on their premises are required to close between 10pm and 5am. Businesses and venues selling food for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm as long as this is through delivery service, click-and-collect or drive-thru.
  • Schools, universities and places of worship remain open
  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of attendees
  • Organised indoor sport and exercise classes can continue to take place, provided the Rule of Six is followed
  • People must not meet in groups larger than six, indoors or outdoors

Tier 2

This is for areas with a higher level of infections. This means the following measures are in place:

  • All businesses and venues can continue to operate, in a Covid-secure manner, other than those that remain closed in law, such as nightclubs and adult entertainment venues
  • Certain businesses selling food or drink on their premises are required to close between 10pm and 5am. Businesses and venues selling food for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm as long as this is through delivery service, click-and-collect or drive-thru
  • Schools, universities and places of worship remain open
  • Weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on the number of attendees
  • Exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors. They will only be permitted indoors if it is possible for people to avoid mixing with people they do not live with or share a support bubble with, or for youth or disability sport
  • The “Rule of Six” will continue to apply outdoors and in private gardens
  • 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 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 to plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes on public transport

Tier 3

The Government will set a baseline of measures for any area in this local alert level. Consultation with local authorities will determine additional measures.

The baseline means the measures below are in place:

  • Pubs and bars must close, and can only remain open 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 anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor or outdoor setting, whether at home or in a public space. The ‘rule of six’ applies in open public spaces such as parks and beaches
  • People should try to avoid travelling outside the ‘very high’ area they are in, or entering a ‘very high’ area, other than for things like work, education, accessing youth services, to meet caring responsibilities or if they are in transit
  • People should avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK if they are resident in a ‘very high’ area, or avoid staying overnight in a ‘very high’ area if they are resident elsewhere

What does this mean for Christmas?

The Telegraph understands the Government is considering plans to ease restrictions over Christmas to allow families five days of freedom.

Scientists have suggested a number of households might be allowed to "bubble" together for a short period. Christmas bubbles could last for five days.

Sources say families could even be allowed to meet at least two other households to celebrate Christmas.

But the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, warned that a decision wouldn’t be reached until December, and the Government’s priority would still be to "save lives."

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: "I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas – I’m not campaigning for that. I would love all of us to be able to have a Christmas, but more than anything I want us to get through this Covid and try and get this country back to normal and I want to protect lives."

However, any Christmas mixing could come at a cost, as Dr Susan Hopkins, the NHS Test and Trace medical director, said modelling had suggested that for every day restrictions are released there needs to be "two days with tighter restrictions". 

Dr Hopkins said: "So, coming into Christmas we need to be very careful about the number of contacts that we have, to reduce transmission before Christmas and get our cases as low as possible."

She added: "Hopefully the Government will make a decision that will allow us to have some mixing…. But once we are past the Christmas period, if they had been released and there has been some socialising we all have to be very careful."

If the Government was to return to the three tiers introduced before lockdown, overnight stays for families outside of the area they reside in can be banned depending on the tier. People will not be forbidden to enter an area for an overnight stay if they live outside.

Under the tiered restrictions, different households can meet (including family), as long as the ‘rule of six’, social distancing, mask-wearing and hand washing guidelines are adhered to at all times in private gardens. However only a maximum of two households and support bubbles can mix.

Read more: What will Christmas look like during Covid-19

On Wednesday November 11, the Department of Education published guidance to enable students to return home and spend the festive season with their families following a difficult first term back for many and a long period of uncertainty.

A short ‘student travel window’ will be in place from December 3-9 during which students can travel home on staggered departure dates that will be set by the universities. This will need to be done in a way that does not overload the public transport system, although many students may travel via their own transport or be collected. Students must adhere to the Government’s travel guidance on the wearing of face coverings and limiting car sharing with only their household or bubble.

We’ve published guidance for students and universities on allowing students to be with their families at Christmas. https://t.co/GBFREcNPd6 pic.twitter.com/b80p19Saa7

— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) November 11, 2020

The current rules don’t allow people to travel anywhere else in the UK, or abroad, and it’s not yet clear if international travel will be allowed over Christmas either. 

Travel corridors and travel restrictions are continuously reassessed based on rise in cases and R rates amongst other factors. Whilst the official guidance discourages all non-essential travel, you may still be allowed to travel internationally – as long as you are aware of the risks.

The ‘green’ list of travel corridor countries, which Britons can visit without needing to self-isolate upon return, is shrinking – which means you may be out of pocket if your trip is cancelled due to new lockdown restrictions. 

Travelling against official government advice is not illegal, but most tour operators will not offer trips to destinations which the Foreign Office (FCO) deems unsafe. In a pandemic, that’s just about everywhere – and it does make travel insurance complicated. 

Why was a lockdown necessary?

Why are we doing it

Mr Johnson was persuaded that a national lockdown was the only way to ‘save’ Christmas, after the UK surpassed one million confirmed cases on Saturday, October 31. 

Imposing these restrictions was bitter blow for the Prime Minister, who insisted for months that he did not believe one would be necessary, describing it as a “nuclear option” and warning that it would be an economic “disaster”. In October, he had told MPs that restrictions would be “completely wrong for the country”.

However, Government scientific advisers told him that by October 14, deaths had already reached daily levels predicted in their worst case scenario planning and would exceed their most pessimistic predictions by the end of the month.

Mr Johnson’s chief scientific advisers, Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, produced graphs which claimed deaths could exceed the first peak and the NHS could be overwhelmed during the winter months.

Official projections that pushed the country into a second lockdown have since been quietly revised to no longer suggest deaths could soon overtake those at the peak of the first wave.

Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told BBC Breakfast on Saturday October 31 that: "The tiered approach to restrictions hasn’t worked particularly well."

When asked what a national four-week lockdown could achieve, he said: "If that was applied nationally, and was adhered to, you would see a dramatic fall in hospital admissions and that’s in four weeks’ time."

He also warned that the virus was "running riot" across all age groups, with up to four times more women aged between 20 and 40 being admitted to hospital with Covid-19 than men in the same age bracket.

Read more: Annabel Fenwick Elliott: Conspiracy or not, this Covid strategy is deeply sinister

Are Covid-19 cases rising or falling in your area? All local authorities with lookup. Updates automatically

Is Britain’s R rate increasing?

Angela McClean, the deputy chief scientific adviser, revealed in a press conference on 18 November that the R-number appears to be falling across the UK. 

The R is estimated to have been going down since the end of September but is still above one. It is now thought to be 1-1.2. (See picture below)

The R rate has been dropping, the latest data shows

Credit: Number 10 Downing Street

Although, Ms McClean emphasised there was an unavoidable time lag when delivering estimates.

The R-number represents the number of people a positive case will go on to infect.

You can track the spread of the virus on our live tracker here. 

Where are the UK's coronavirus hotspots?

Which shops are still open?

SHOPS

Food shops, supermarkets, garden centres, hardware shops and certain other retailers providing essential goods have remained open.

Essential retail should follow Covid-secure guidelines to protect customers, visitors and workers. Unlike Wales, no aisles selling non-essential goods will be closed off.

All non-essential retail has closed, and will remain closed during one of the most profitable months of the year. These include – but not limited to – clothing and electronics stores, vehicle showrooms, travel agents, bookmakers, auction houses, tailors, car washes, tobacco and vaping shops.​

These non-essential shops can remain open for delivery to customers, click-and-collect – if they can be Covid-secure – and online trading.

Why are shops closed?

As with pubs, restaurants and other places of social activity, the Government wants to stop any chance the virus has of spreading  between people, particularly people in groups.

Shops can help the virus to spread because it can live on surfaces for some time – so the items you pick up in the shop could be carrying the virus; you could then become infected yourself or pass it on to someone else. Scientists say that closing shops greatly reduces the risk of spreading the virus.

If fewer people get infected, there will be less strain on the NHS and more lives can be saved.

Will schools close?

will school close

For now, the Government maintains it has no plans to close schools.

Unlike the previous lockdown, nurseries, schools, colleges and universities have remained open, although the Prime Minister is now facing a fresh battle with unions as a result.

Senior clinicians still advise that school is the best place for children to be.

Every school has drawn up plans to ensure children continue to receive an education even if they have to stay at home.

Currently, youngsters learn and mix exclusively with fellow pupils who are in their ‘bubbles’. Large assemblies and collective worship do not include more than one group. Break and lunchtimes are also staggered to keep different bubbles apart. Ensuring these “distinct groups do not mix” makes it quicker and easier to identify contacts if a positive coronavirus case emerges or someone has symptoms.

The use of the staff room by teachers is also “minimised”. 

If a teacher or pupil has symptoms or a positive diagnosis, schools must contact local health protection teams immediately so those in close contact with the child can be traced. Pupils in a bubble, year group and very rarely the entire school could be asked to self-isolate. A mobile testing unit could be sent to a campus. 

Although guidelines do not recommend the universal use of face coverings, each school can decide whether pupils above Year 7, teachers and visitors should wear them when in corridors and communal areas, where passing briefly is deemed a “low risk”. They will not be worn in class. 

The guidance insists a “robust hand and respiratory hygiene” regime is in place, with children encouraged to clean their hands when they arrive at school, return from breaks, use bathrooms, change classrooms and before eating. Hand sanitiser “stations” should be commonplace, with possible supervision “given risks around ingestion”.

Mr Johnson has stressed the importance of schools and insists that exams will go ahead.  Most AS, A levels and GCSEs will be held 3 weeks later in order to address the disruption caused by the pandemic.

What about universities?

Universities are working to ensure they have safety measures in place to minimise the spread of the virus. This includes online teaching, one-way systems on campus and social distancing in classrooms at some universities. 

The government have advised that students who live at university must not move back and forward between their permanent home and student home during term time and should only return home at the end of term for Christmas.

Before the second lockdown began, the universities minister, Michelle Donelan (below), stated that students should not have returned home, as it risked the lives of their loved ones. 

Ms Donelan had said: "I know and appreciate that a number of you may want to be back with your family during this difficult time, but I urge you to stay where you are in order to save lives."

Ms Donelan also called on institutions not to switch fully to online lessons during the lockdown as she warned it could jeopardise students’ learning and "risk their mental health".

Credit: Will Wintercross/Will Wintercross

In a separate letter to vice-chancellors, the minister said she wanted all students to have "some form of face-to-face learning" where possible, as they had not seen evidence of increased transmission within teaching environments on university campuses.

The University and College Union (UCU) called on vice-chancellors to move all non-essential activities online to keep students and staff safe and to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

The Department for Education (DfE) also offered guidance on what universities and students in England should do under the current restrictions, saying face-to-face teaching should continue where it can be done safely.

The guidance said "commuter students" – those who live at their family home and travel to the university campus for lessons – would still be allowed to attend the university for educational purposes during this lockdown.

It also advised that face coverings should be worn in all university learning environments, providing that they do "not impact teaching and learning."

Libraries and study spaces on campus have remained open during the current lockdown; however, students are not allowed to gather in these spaces unless it is part of a scheduled in-person seminar or tutorial.

Are gyms closed?

All gyms in England closed on 5 November in accordance to the new lockdown restrictions.

Gyms will only reopen under the rules of the previous tier system, with some gyms only opening under the approval of the local authority. 

If the tier system resumes in early December, it is expected that gyms will follow the same strict regulations as before the lockdown. This included the debate of whether gym goers need to wear a mask. 

Can I play sport outdoors? What about golf, tennis and fishing? 

All organised sport is banned under the current rules, including community events like Sunday league football.

Sports facilities including swimming pools, golf courses and driving ranges, stables and riding centres, soft play facilities, climbing walls, archery and shooting ranges are all closed.

As in the first lockdown, two people from different households are allowed to meet outdoors to exercise together, such as by going for a run or playing with a football in a park.

The Lawn Tennis Association has said indoor tennis will cease, but it is “making the case to Government for outdoor tennis activity for two individuals from different households to continue”.

Angling, on your own, with members of your own household or with one other individual is allowed. 

People may exercise more than once per day, providing their exercise is within the rules and does not involve household mixing beyond the limited exceptions.

Officially there is no advice requiring people who are exercising in a wide open space to wear a mask. As long as you are practising social distancing, it shouldn’t be necessary to wear a face covering while exercising.

Can I visit a relative in a care home?

Close family and friends of care home residents are allowed to continue visiting them during England’s second national lockdown.

Families of elderly care home residents had called for visits to be permitted, describing them as "essential" for mental health, while more than 60 organisations and experts had also called on the Government to enable visits to continue.

Matt Hancock said on November 16: "Our goal is to ensure that we have the testing available in every care home by Christmas, to make sure that people can take a test and therefore see their loved ones safely."

Mr Hancock also said that he is "working closely with the social care sector" to ensure that happens.

The regulations, published on November 3, state that the exception comes under medical need, and that it is reasonably necessary for someone to leave their home to visit a person staying in a care home where they are a member of that person’s household, a close family member, or a friend

Visits to care homes were also banned during the first lockdown in March, as it became clear they had become hotspots for the spread of the disease. Visits to homes were only allowed in exceptional circumstances.

If the tier system resumes in early December, visits are only allowed in tiers 2 and 3 in circumstances such as end-of-life care, and care home staff should facilitate visits over video call instead. However, Mr Hancock’s plan for Covid testing in care homes may change this.

Can I still use a childminder?

Parents can continue to use childcare services where “reasonably necessary to enable parents to work”.

That includes childcare centres and in-home childminders.

There is also additional flexibility in the rules allowing parents and children to travel for childcare purposes, and childcare bubbles can be used to allow one other friend or relative to help, even if they are in a different household.

The Government’s guidance says “most youth clubs and groups will need to cease for this period”, so informal childcare through clubs will not be allowed.

Who can come into my house?

The current lockdown rules ban households from mixing, except in specific circumstances.

People in the same household can see each other indoors, plus anyone in the same support bubble. Support bubbles are formed of one household of any number of people, plus one other person who lives alone.

The rules permit people who work in other people’s homes to enter – including cleaners, carers and tradespeople. Most food delivery services are offering socially-distanced drop-offs, so drivers do not have to enter other households.

Overnight stays in another household are not allowed except for support bubbles, and nor is visiting second homes elsewhere in the UK.

Can I go to the optician, dentist or vet?

Opticians and dentists have remained open.

Before the restrictions began, a government spokesman said “medically necessary care and treatment may continue,” including mental health services.

Dentists initially avoided conducting procedures that generated aerosols, although that restriction has since been lifted.

Vets are open, providing they continue to follow Covid-secure guidelines.

Do I have to shield again?

People who were told to formally shield during the first lockdown have been advised that they should not leave their homes unnecessarily, as they are vulnerable to more serious effects from Covid-19.

But they are not shielding in the same way as they were in March – when vulnerable people were told not to leave their homes for any reason.

In addition, Boris Johnson said people who are over 60 or who are clinically vulnerable should be especially careful mixing with other people in public spaces or in the workplace.

Professor Chris Whitty said there were “downsides” to the first shielding programme, including “significant problems with loneliness and feeling completely cut off from society”.

People who are most at risk have been told to minimise their contact with others as much as possible.

Can I still go on holiday?

CAN I STILL GO ON HOLIDAY

No, overnight stays outside of your home are not allowed, and nor is travelling to visit a second home.

The current rules also apply to people planning to travel anywhere else in the UK, or abroad – so holidays in less risky countries are also not permitted.

People who are in the same support bubble may visit each other overnight, but the Government has advised people to bubble with nearby friends or relatives to prevent unnecessary travel and the spread of the virus between different regions of the UK.

There are exemptions on international travel and staying in hotels for people who must stay overnight to fulfill work, educational or caring responsibilities.

Can I still get married?

No, weddings are now banned at least until the new regulations are reviewed on December 2.

The restrictions apply regardless of whether the ceremony happens in a place of worship.

An exceptions to the rules on weddings, is "where one of those getting married is seriously ill and not expected to recover (‘deathbed wedding’)".

These weddings or ceremonies have been limited to 6 people.

Churches, mosques and other places of worship have all closed, apart from in specific circumstances such as funerals, broadcast sermons, individual prayer and formal childcare.

Funerals are limited to a maximum of 30 people, although it is advised that only close family members attend. Stone settings and scatterings should have no more than 15 people.

Can I move house? 

Yes, renters and homeowners can still move house. Removal firms and estate agents can also operate.

Covid safety guidelines should be followed, such as social distancing and wearing facemasks. 

The Government has previously recommended that people do as much or their own packing as they can, and that house viewings are conducted virtually where possible. 

Can I attend my partner’s baby scan or birth?

You are allowed to have a partner by your side during labour, considering they do not have any Covid-19 symptoms. However, there may be limits on how long your partner can stay in the hospital after the birth. The question of whether you are allowed to accompany your partner to a scan is less obvious, as The Department of Health and Social Care has not confirmed whether partners are permitted to attend baby scans or appointments.

Can my children play sport?

The latest lockdown regulations say “most” youth clubs are closed unless they have a formal childcare function, and grassroots outdoor sport for adults has already been banned.

No exceptions have been granted for children’s sports clubs, such as Saturday football leagues, as they involve children mixing in large numbers.

However, children still exercise with others in their PE lessons at school.

An online petition was created to lobby the Government to make a formal exception for under-18s sport.

Mark Ing, who started the campaign, said sport was “important for the kids’ health” and could be run without adult spectators.

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