The Prime Minister announced a third national lockdown for England amid spiralling Covid-19 infections, once again telling the nation to stay at home.
Boris Johnson said the new measures have been introduced in a bid to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed, and that the number of Covid patients in hospitals is 40% higher than the first peak.
Mr Johnson warned the new COVID variant, which is up to 70% more transmissible, was spreading at a “frustrating and alarming”.
People in all of England and most of Scotland must now stay at home except for a handful of permitted reasons, as new lockdowns begin in both nations.
The key message from Johnson’s announcement was a return to the advice seen in the first two lockdowns: to stay at home wherever possible.
He said: “In England, we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain this variant. That means the government is once again instructing you to stay at home.”
The measures are expected to last until mid-February at the earliest, when it is hoped a sufficient number of vulnerable people will have been vaccinated in order to start easing the lockdown.
It’s also been confirmed that GCSE and A-Level exams in England were being cancelled this year.
Stay at home rules
It will be illegal to leave home except if you have a “reasonable excuse”. These include:
- going to work where it is not possible to work from home
- shopping for essentials
- to obtain childcare in certain circumstances
- meeting people in your support bubble if you are entitled to one
- medical reasons, such as attending doctor’s appointments
- to escape risk of harm such as domestic abuse
- compassionate reasons, such as visiting a dying relative
- communal worship
- animal welfare reasons, such as to attend veterinary services
Schools will be closed
All primary and secondary schools and colleges will move to remote learning, except for the children of key workers or vulnerable children.
Early years settings such as nurseries and childminders can remain open.
University students will not be allowed to return to campus and will be expected to study from their current residence, and in-person higher education teaching will only take place for a small number of critical courses.
Non-essential shops to close
Numerous businesses must close if they hadn’t done so already under the previous tiering system. They include:
- non-essential shops, though click and collect services can still operate
- hospitality venues such as pubs and restaurants, though they can still provide takeaway food and non-alcoholic drinks. Takeaway alcohol is not permitted
- accommodation such as hotels and hostels
- leisure and sports facilities
- entertainment venues, from theatres and cinemas to casinos and indoor play centres
- personal care shops such as barbers and hairdressers
Shielding advice will be reintroduced, with those who are extremely clinically vulnerable to coronavirus told to stay at home, not go to work, and only leave for medical appointments and exercise.
The PM said letters would be sent out to those who should shield this week.
The advice is likely to closely resemble these shielding guidelines issued by the government last month for people in Tier 4 areas.
Under the new lockdown, two households will remain able to form support and childcare bubbles with each other, provided they meet certain “eligibility rules”.
Support bubbles can be established if, for example, a person lives on their own or with a child under 18. That household can form a bubble with another household of any size, with overnight stays permitted.
A childcare bubble, meanwhile, can be formed if you live in a household with anyone aged under 14, and allows friends or family from one other household to provide informal childcare.
However, the rules state: “You must not meet socially with your childcare bubble, and must avoid seeing members of your childcare and support bubbles at the same time.”
Like the first national lockdown, exercise “should be limited to once a day”.
People can do so in public outdoor spaces either by themselves, with the people they live with, with their support bubble if this is permitted or, when on their own, with one person from another household.
Outdoor sports venues – including tennis courts, golf courses and swimming pools – must close.
Places of worship
Unlike the first national lockdown of March last year, people can leave home to visit a place of worship for communal worship.
While attending, mingling with people from another household is banned, and people must wear face coverings indoors.
Meanwhile, people can also attend a funeral or event related to a death, a burial ground or a remembrance garden, or a wedding ceremony.
However, weddings and civil ceremonies may only take place in “exceptional circumstances”, with limits on the number of people who can attend these set at six.
A maximum 30 people can attend funerals.
Meeting in larger groups
Even under the strict lockdown, there are certain circumstances in which people can meet others outside their household or bubble in larger groups. These include:
- for work, including working in people’s homes (e.g. social care workers, nannies, cleaners)
- childcare while in a childcare bubble
- education, registered childcare, and supervised activities for children – where eligible
- for arrangements where children do not live in the same household as both their parents or guardians
- for birth partners
- to avoid injury or illness, or escape the risk of harm (e.g. domestic abuse)
- to see someone who is dying
- to provide care or assistance to someone vulnerable, or to provide respite for a carer
- to facilitate a house move
- for elite sportspeople to compete and train