UK LOCKDOWN RULES – confusing and in flux?

Many of us in Britain are a little bit unclear about the current rules of the lockdown in the UK not least because of the state of fluidity and understandable but deliberate lack of clarity by the government, so this write-up is intended to explain just where things seems to be just now

For a start, the advice for those aged 70 and over (who can be absolutely fit and healthy and it’s not the case that everybody over 70 has a chronic health condition or an underlying disease) continues to be though that they should take particular care to MINIMISE contact with others outside their household (If they do go out more frequently, they should be careful to maintain distance from others. They and EVERYONE else should continue to comply with any general social distancing restrictions).

Anyone who has been advised to shield by the NHS or their GP, including those 70 and over, should continue to do this until at least the end of June – individuals with very specific medical conditions to shield until the end of June should do everything they can to stay at home, because they are likely to be at the greatest risk of serious complications from coronavirus

If you are showing coronavirus SYMPTOMS, or if YOU or any of your HOUSEHOLD are self-isolating, you should STAY AT HOME

General advice is that you should stay at home as much as possible.

The reasons you may leave home include:

•for work, where you cannot work from home

•going to shops that are permitted to be open – to get things like food and medicine

•to exercise or spend time outdoors

•any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid injury or illness, escape risk of harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person

[Note that taxis are still operating during the current lockdown, but however taxis may only be taken for the above “essential” purposes]

These reasons are exceptions and even when doing these activities, you should be MINIMISING time spent away from the home and ensuring that you are two metres apart from anyone outside of your household

As a result of the March initial lockdown rules, the government passed legislation (PDF) to give it the authority to impose restrictions on people’s movements and activities. These regulations said

  1. people would not be able to leave their home without a reasonable excuse
  2. gatherings of more than TWO PEOPLE were NOT allowed, unless they were from the same household (this included family members and partners who did not live together)
  3. people should NOT visit friends in their homes or allow people to come and visit them

 

On May 10, NEW lockdown rules were announced would start to be introduced, which revealed several different STAGES and STEPS to the new UK’s coronavirus plan. These were detailed in a 60-page plan published by the government.

Overall, there are three phases to the UK’s Covid-19 response. These are:

  1. Phase One: which includes attempting to contain and delay the response of the virus
  2. Phase Two: introducing “smarter controls” to the lockdown response
  3. Phase Three: this final one includes creating reliable treatments and a vaccine for the virus

In addition to the three coronavirus phases, it was said that there are multiple steps to easing the lockdown and these are detailed below. However, from the middle of May there would be changes to the lockdown rules.

The new May lockdown rules relating to ENGLAND (started on May 13)

  • It is NOW ‘non-mandatory’ recommended that people wear face coverings, including MASKS and homemade masks, when they are in enclosed public spaces, such as on public transport Children will NOT be compelled to wear face coverings at school. [Face coverings can help us protect each other and reduce the spread of the disease if you are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms]
  • people who aren’t able to work from HOME should be looking to RETURN TO WORK [for the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible]. People who CANNOT work from home SHOULD travel to work if their workplaces are OPEN.

This includes those working in food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research]

  • It has been recommended that people who now have to travel to work should AVOID public transport where people are crowded-in, should consider all other forms of transport BEFORE using public transport, and should walk, cycle or drive instead, but If they can’t walk, cycle or drive to their destination, they are advised to:
    • Travel at off-peak times
    • Take a less busy route and reduce the number of changes
    • Wait for other passengers to get off before boarding
    • Keep 2m away from people “where possible” [there may be situations where people can’t keep 2m away from each other, such as at busy times or getting on or off public transport. In these cases, the advice is to avoid physical contact and face away from others]
    • Wash their hands for at least 20 seconds after completing their journey
  • People who work in PAID CHILDCARE (such as nannies and childminders), CAN return to work if they are able to follow SOCIAL DISTANCING RULES
  • people can now take “unlimited” amounts of exercise
  • some sports can now be played
  • people WILL be allowed
    • to sunbathe
    • sit in local parks [you can meet ONE OTHER PERSON from outside your household if you are OUTDOORS. Public gatherings of more than 2 people from different households are prohibited in law. There are no limits on gatherings in the park with members of your household
    • drive further to exercise [you can travel to outdoor open space irrespective of distance, but you shouldn’t travel with someone from outside your household unless you can practise social distancing – for example by cycling
    • go to a garden centre
    • play sports OUTSIDE with members of a household [use outdoor sports courts or facilities, such as a tennis or basketball court, or golf course – with members of your HOUSEHOLD, or ONE OTHER PERSON while staying 2 metres apart]

Sports courts can re-open, but you should only partake in such activities ALONE, with members of YOUR HOUSEHOLD, or with ONE OTHER PERSON from outside your household, while practising social distancing. You should take particular care if you need to use any indoor facilities next to these outdoor courts, such as toilets.

You should NOT use any of these facilities if you are showing coronavirus symptoms, or if you or any of your household are self-isolating

As with before, you CANNOT:

  • visit friends and family in their homes [However the government has asked the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) to advise on the concept of “bubbles”, which would mean allowing people to expand their household group to include ONE OTHER HOUSEHOLD. For the time being, you cannot visit friends or family, except to spend time OUTDOORS with up to ONE PERSON from a different household
  • exercise in an indoor sports court, gym or leisure centre, or go swimming in a public pool
  • use an outdoor gym or playground
  • visit a private or ticketed attraction
  • gather in a group of more than two (excluding members of your own household), except for a few specific exceptions set out in law (for work, funerals, house moves, supporting the vulnerable, in emergencies and to fulfil legal obligations)
  • leaving your home – the place you live – to stay at another home including visiting second homes, for a holiday or other purpose is NOT ALLOWED, although if a student is moving permanently to live back at their family home, this is permitted

 

The change to working rules does NOT APPLY to

  1. people who work in HOSPITALITY – including pubs, restaurants, cinemas and more
  2. those who work for NON-ESSENTIAL RETAILERS
  • One change to the rules now ALLOWS people to meet others OUTSIDE of their own home. However, this is still very limited. People can meet OUTSIDE with ONE person not from their household as long as they follow social distancing rules and stay two metres apart.
  1. All weddings have been cancelled
  2. Prisons have been put on lockdown with external visits cancelled
  3. Funerals ARE still allowed to take place but they should be limited to a person’s IMMEDIATE FAMILY (this includes spouses and partners, parents or carers, plus siblings and children). Where a grandparent has died, grandchildren can attend and if a person does not have any relatives, a close friend may attend. In all instances, funerals should follow the two metre social distancing guidelines.

 

In the future, there may be different levels of lockdown around England. This could see some areas with lower R numbers being allowed greater freedoms than those where the virus is more prevalent.

Why UK lockdown rules are different across the UK?

Many of the issues that face the UK can also be decided upon by the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is done through their own legislation and powers. During May, as the new lockdown rules started to be implemented, differences emerged between the countries. In most cases, England has moved faster than other nations.

As of May 14, SCOTLAND and WALES have NOT PERMITTED

  • travel for exercise
  • issued dates for schools reopening
  • allowed limited socialising in open spaces,
  • encouraged companies to reopen
  • Scotland has said people should wear face coverings in crowded areas, while Wales has not.
  • In NORTHERN IRELAND people ARE being allowed to travel for exercise, socialise in outdoor spaces and has told people to cover their faces in crowded public spaces.

 

Do we know when will the UK lockdown end?

On April 30, it was confirmed the UK had passed the PEAK of its first coronavirus outbreak. This announcement gave the first sign that the government was seriously thinking about how to end some of the lockdown measures that had been put in place.

Throughout the crisis, officials have been reluctant to put any firm dates on when measures would change. And that has not changed. “This is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week,” Johnson said on May 10. Instead the UK would start to take the “first careful steps to modify our measures”.

Johnson said there was a balance that needed to be struck between reopening the economy and ensuring the highest levels of public health protection. The government would be following science, data, and advice from public health officials as it decided which lockdown measures to ease.

The end of the lockdown is being guided by five key tests that the government is following. These tests have been designed to ensure that once people are allowed to freely move around again, there is less likelihood of a second wave of the virus appearing. The tests are largely measures of preparedness for the near-term future.

The five key tests are:

  1. the NHS having capacity to provide critical care across the UK
  2. a sustained and consistent fall in daily coronavirus deaths
  3. a decreased rate of infections
  4. enough testing and personal protective equipment are held for future demand;
  5. a confidence that adjusting the lockdown measures will not risk a second peak of infections.

One key factor to monitoring when certain lockdown restrictions will end is the R number. This is a measure of the rate of transmission of the coronavirus

The May 10 address outlined that the lockdown would also be monitored though a new system of alerts. The system works on a scale of one to five – ranging from a “low” to “critical” threat level.

Achieving a one on this scale indicates that coronavirus is not present in the UK any more. This is something that is unlikely to be reached for a long time, if it is ever achieved, and will most likely rely on a vaccine being created. At the top end of the scale, number five, there is a significant risk the NHS is not able to handle the number of coronavirus cases where patients need to be hospitalised.

The level is being determined by a Joint Biosecurity Centre, and would be measured based on the R number and the number of new cases in the country. “That Covid Alert Level will tell us how tough we have to be in our social distancing measures – the lower the level the fewer the measures,” Johnson said. “The higher the level, the tougher and stricter we will have to be.” During the lockdown the UK was at level four.

Alongside the alerts are THREE STEPS the government is introducing to ease the lockdown.

  1. STEP ONE [‘CONFIRMED’ commenced May 13] –some restrictions on who can go to work were being eased, as well as the ability to meet one person from another household and the allowance of unlimited exercise.
  2. STEP TWOUNCONFIRMED’ which may happen from June 1.
  • This step would allow a PHASED RETURN FOR SCHOOLS, with pupils from reception, year one and year six being allowed back into classrooms. “The government’s ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer for a month if feasible, though this will be kept under review. The government has issued more guidance on how it believes schools can safely return. It states that the majority of staff in schools will NOT need PPE and that primary school pupils CANNOT be expected to stay two metres apart. Schools should make sure hand cleaning is done regularly, buildings are cleaned often and where possible physical contact and mixing of groups should be avoided.

The guidance also says that class sizes should be REDUCED (instead of 30 pupils in classes, groups should not number more than 15). Teachers will be allocated to the same group of pupils. Where possible, desks should be spread out further than they usually are. Corridor dividers to keep people apart, one-way systems, and limits on the number of people that can enter toilets at once are also being recommended for schools. Finally, the government says schools should look at introducing staggered pickup times for pupils to stop the amount of mixing that happens between adults from different households.

    • Also in step two could be the reopening of “non-essential retail“. The government has not outlined the types of businesses that it considered to be non-essential retailers in any detail but it is NOT thought to include pubs and similar firms
    • There’s no change at this time, but it is an intention to enable small wedding ceremonies from 1 June.

 

3. STEP THREE,UNCONFIRMED’ which may happen no earlier than July 4,

  • The roadmap sets out that some businesses (like pubs, cinemas) will NOT open until Step 3 is reached – but that would see the reopening of some of the HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY and other public places.
  • when this point is reached, many of the remaining lockdown measures would be eased. (this may include the reopening of hairdressers, beauty salons, pubs, hotels, and leisure facilities such as cinemas)

 

Do we know when will shops and pubs reopen?

The vast majority of retailers had to close their doors on March 23. The government said bars, clubs, restaurants and cafes should be closed, unless they are open for takeaways or deliveries. In addition, hair and beauty shops (including nail salons and tattoo parlours), massage parlours, auction houses, car showrooms, hotels, campsites, caravan parks, libraries, community centres, places of worship, cinemas and similar venues, museums, casinos and betting shops, spas, gyms, arcades and skating rinks should all be closed.

The government has provided extra guidance and exemptions for many of these businesses.

Supermarkets and other food shops have been allowed to stay open, as can many services that people rely on for basic needs. Banks, newsagents and corner shops, post offices, dry cleaners, home and hardware shops, petrol stations, laundrettes, pet shops, and car rentals are allowed to continue operating. As can pharmacies and market stalls that provide groceries. Shops and organisations that have stayed open have introduced extra safety measures to comply with social distancing rules. These include queue control outside shops and limits on number of people allowed in stores.

Online shopping hasn’t changed. Food deliveries, takeaways and other online shopping, including Amazon deliveries, are still happening. The government has said online shopping is “encouraged” and delivery services and the postal service are running as normal. When the government ordered restaurants to close on March 20, it said they could stay open for takeaways and deliveries. People aren’t allowed to eat food or drink while waiting for a takeaway and have to keep two metres apart while queuing.

In his May 10 announcement, it was said there could be a “phased” reopening of shops from the start of June. However, this would depend on the UK’s continued coronavirus response and a further reduction in cases. Pubs are likely to be one of the last sectors of the economy to reopen. As with the rest of the country’s retailers, the government has not set a definite date for pubs to reopen, but its roadmap to ending the lockdown says the earliest this could happen would be at the start of July.

When can I see my family?

The lockdown plans outlined by Johnson on May 10 changed very little. People are allowed to meet one person from another household as long as they are OUTSIDE from May 13, but they must keep two metres apart at all times. The lockdown rules say people cannot mix with other households.

In the future this may change. Sage, the government’s science advisory committee, is examining when it may be possible for people to spend time with one other household. “The intention of this change would be to allow those who are isolated some more social contact, and to reduce the most harmful effects of the current social restrictions, while continuing to limit the risk of chains of transmission,” the government says. Although no date has been put on when this could happen

Who now can go to work under lockdown?

Companies have been told that everyone working for them should work from home, “wherever possible”. This includes the vast majority of people who work in offices and many other professions. While restaurants are allowed to stay open serving takeaways and deliveries, many of them (including Nando’s and McDonald’s) have decided to close entirely due to the difficulties of enforcing social distancing. People who work for retailers that are allowed to stay open should speak to their employers about their individual situations.

With the closure of schools, the UK government also issued a list of who it identifies as key workers. It’s a broad list. Included are people working in health and social key, education, government, public services (including the justice system, charities and journalists), people providing food and other necessary goods, transportation services and utilities.

On May 10, Johnson said that people who can work from home should continue to do so. He did not give a date when this might change. However, he said that if people could not work from home – citing examples of people who work in construction – then they should be encouraged to return to work. “When you do go to work, if possible do so by car or even better by walking or bicycle,” the prime minister urged. He recommended that people DO NOT USE public transport where possible.

When offices do reopen things will be different. Johnson has said the government is working on guidance to make workplaces “Covid-secure”. This guidance has yet to be published. Reports say companies will have to limit hot desking and introduce protective screens to workplaces to ensure people don’t come into contact with each other. Staff canteens will stay closed and it is likely that shifts will be staggered for different employees. One team may work in an office space for one week and then switch with another team for the following week.

These measures may be added on top of other returning to work measures. Social distancing will be required in all types of workplaces and existing government guidance says face-to-face meetings should last for 15 minutes at the very most. It is likely some forms of social distancing will operate until a vaccine for coronavirus is found.

[It is going to be some months before greater clarity returns to the UK lockdown and its restrictions and that’s unfortunate since community spirit as well as the economy is currently trashed]

 

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