How long have we been on lockdown in the UK and how long will rules stay in force?

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  • There is finally an answer to ‘how long have we been in lockdown in the UK?’ as the government have now announced when the restrictions will end. 

    In England as of July 19, many of the restrictions have lifted. There are no longer any limits on how many people can meet up indoors and outside, nightclubs can reopen again and the rules on face coverings have changed. Even England’s travel rules have changed, allowing those who can prove a double vaccination to return from amber list countries without the quarantine requirement.

    However, the rules are not the same across the whole of the UK and there are still measures in place to prevent the spread of the new Delta variant around the country.

    How long have we been in lockdown in the UK?

    England’s third lockdown came into place on January 6 and ended on July 19, meaning the country has been in some form of lockdown for over six months.

    Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also took on new measures at the same time, with a general ‘stay at home’ order issued widely across the UK as a whole. These countries are lifting their measures slower than England, with Scotland moving into a level zero this week.

    The last lockdown of this severity was the first lockdown, which began on March 23 2020. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the news of a three week lockdown initially in a national television address. The first set of rules laid out by the government included restricted reasons for leaving home and social mixing prohibited. Shops, restaurants, bars and all other hospitality venues also had to close. ‘Working from home’ became standard for the very first time. Shortly after announcing it, the government extended the first lockdown for another three weeks. They then eased restrictions slightly in May. This meant that the lockdown was in place for around seven weeks.

    In autumn 2020, the first three tier system was announced – before the second lockdown came into place. Otherwise known as a circuit breaker lockdown, it was short and sharp lockdown. Coming out of this isolation period, which lasted for a month through November, England was put under a new and revised tier system with many areas immediately going into the higher tiers, including the later-named tier 4.

    While the lockdown was partially lifted in the summer last year and as of March 2021 has now been lifted again, with the ‘stay at home’ order replaced with advice to ‘stay local’, the UK has never really left lockdown like some other countries have.

    This means that the country has been operating in a form of lockdown for well over a year now.

    The one year mark passed on March 23 2021 with a day of reflection, in honour of those who lost their lives to coronavirus. As well as candlelit vigils over the country, major landmarks including the London Eye, Blackpool Tower, Trafalgar Square and Wembley Stadium were also lit up.

    When did lockdown 3 start in England?

    The new lockdown started in England on January 6 at one minute past midnight. It started to lift on March 8, when pupils could stop working from home and return to school.

    From this day onwards, the previous ‘stay at home’ order was replaced with government advice to ‘stay local’ where possible.

    Since the measures lifted in March, police have warned that they will clamp down and issue fines for breaking lockdown to anyone organising larger events.

    When will the UK lockdown end – how long will the UK lockdown rules stay in force?

    The UK lockdown started to end on March 8, when the first set of restrictions were lifted under the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. This is when kids were able to go back to school, people were about to meet another person on a park bench for a drink or picnic for the first time and care home residents were able to have one regular visitor.

    Two women walking together as lockdown comes to an end in England

    From March 8, people have been allowed to mix with those from outside their households. Credit: Getty

    In a statement to the House of Commons, the prime minister said that the plan was going to “cautiously but irreversibly” take the country out of lockdown. While the hope was for all social restrictions to end on June 21, this was delayed by one month. This means that lockdown ended on July 19 2021.

    The PM said at the time, “With appropriate mitigations we will aim to remove all legal limits on social contact, and on weddings and other life events. We will re-open everything up to and including nightclubs.”

    The lockdown easing plan works in four steps, with at least a five-week break between each of the steps to allow time for the data to catch up. If four criteria are not met at each stage, then the rules can’t be lifted any further. These criteria are:

    • The vaccine programme must continue successfully.
    • Evidence must show the vaccines remain effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths.
    • Infection rates cannot risk a surge in hospitalisations, which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
    • The assessment of risks cannot be changed by new Covid-19 variants that cause concern.

    Concerns over the new Delta variant and the associated symptoms mean that we could go back into lockdown later this year, though.

    After March 8, March 29 was the next stage of lifting the lockdown. From this date, groups of six or two households can meet outdoors – including in private gardens. Outdoor sports facilities, including tennis courts and open-air swimming pools, are also able to reopen and formally organised sports can return.

    Man and woman playing tennis as lockdown restrictions lift in England

    Sports venues reopened later on March 29. Credit: Getty

    “People should continue to work from home where they can and minimise all travel wherever possible”, the prime minister said at the time.

    From April 12, non-essential retail and personal care services reopened again. This included hairdressers and nail salons. Indoor leisure facilities like gyms also reopened, as did holiday lets (but only for individuals and household groups). Pubs and restaurants reopened for outdoor serving after this date as well.

    The PM assured the house that “the Scotch Egg debate will be over because there will be no requirement for alcohol to be accompanied by a substantial meal.”

    At the same time, zoos and theme parks, drive-in cinemas, public libraries and community centres re-opened.

    The latest change happened on May 17. From this date, most of the social restrictions on meeting people outdoors were lifted. Now, everyone can see family and friends indoors subject to the rule of six or two households.  Pubs and restaurants can serve customers indoors again. Indoor cinemas, children’s soft play areas, hotels, hostels and B&BS could also reopen. Theatres and concern halls opened their doors again as well.

    “The turnstiles of our sports stadia will once again rotate subject in all cases to capacity limits depending on the size of the venue. And we will pilot larger events using enhanced testing, with the ambition of further easing of restrictions in the next step,” the Prime Minister said in February.

    From June 21, “all legal limits on social contact” were set to be removed. Although this date was delayed, it effectively signalled a complete end to the lockdown in early summer. It’s not currently known when we can stop wearing face coverings in indoor public spaces, however, as many companies have urged people to continue wearing them after this date.

    “I know there will be many people who will be worried that we are being too ambitious and that it is arrogant to impose any kind of plan upon a virus.” The Prime Minister said, “And I agree that we must always be humble in the face of nature and we must be cautious but I really also believe that the vaccination programme has dramatically changed the odds in our favour and it is on that basis that we can now proceed.

    “And of course there will be others who will believe that we could go faster on the basis of that vaccination programme and I understand their feelings and I sympathise very much with the exhaustion and the stress that people are experiencing and that businesses are experiencing after so long in lockdown.

    “But to them I say that today the end really is in sight and a wretched year will give way to a spring and a summer that will be very different and incomparably better than the picture we see around us today.”

    In many cases over the coming months, the lockdown travel rules will remain much the same. Although the government have announced the green list, anyone returning from any of the countries on the government’s ‘red list’ will have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days on their return to the country.

    People walking through an airport as lockdown lifting allows for travel to green list countries

    The government recently released a list of ‘green list’ countries for UK travel. Credit: Getty

    A holiday to somewhere in the UK is certainly be on the cards though as the ban on non-essential travel has been lifted.

    The lockdown exercise rules were scrapped from March 8, when two people were be able to meet on a park bench for a coffee, drink or picnic. Previously, two people from different households were only able to meet if they were exercising together. This is now no longer the case.

    There is also no guarantee that the lockdown rules will end by the given dates. Matt Hancock, for instance, gave a new expiry date of July 17 to The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.3) Regulations 2020. The regulations were due to expire in January but the government extended them during the last lockdown review. The measures allow the government to close particular venues, including those in the hospitality and leisure industries, to stop the spread of Covid-19.

    Lockdown rules could also stay in force for longer if infection levels don’t meet the four criteria. The prime minister has also said that the government “can’t rule out” the idea of local lockdowns or regional measures. He explained, “Next month we will publish an updated plan for responding to local outbreaks, with a range of measures to address variants of concern, including surge PCR testing and enhanced contact tracing.

    “We can’t, I’m afraid, rule out re-imposing restrictions at local or regional level if evidence suggests they are necessary to contain or suppress a new variant which escapes the vaccines.”

    At the time of writing, 78% of people in the UK have received their first dose of either the Pfizer, Moderna or Oxford vaccine. But at the beginning of the vaccination rollout, the Prime Minister said, “We are able to take these steps [out of lockdown] because of the resolve of the British public and the extraordinary success of our NHS in vaccinating more than 17.5 million people across the UK.

    “The data so far suggests both vaccines are effective against the dominant strains of Covid. Public Health England has found that one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces hospitalisations and deaths by at least 75 per cent. And early data suggests that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine provides a good level of protection, though since we only started deploying this vaccine last month, at this stage the size of its effect is less certain.”

    The vaccine has always been the country’s way out of lockdown. Chris Witty, England’s chief medical officer, was one of the first to go on record about this. He said earlier last year that restrictions would be in place for the rest of the year and into 2021.

    “In the long run, the exit from this is going to be one of two things, ideally. A vaccine, and there are a variety of ways they can be deployed. Or, and or, highly effective drugs so that people stop dying of this disease even if they catch it, or which can prevent this disease in vulnerable people.” He said, “Until we have those, and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year is incredibly small, and I think we should be realistic about that.

    “We’re going to have to rely on other social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive as everyone is finding at the moment. But until that point, that is what we will have to do.”

    How many lockdowns has the UK had?

    As of March 2021, the UK has had three lockdowns. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the situation with restrictions has been different.

    In England, the first lockdown begun on March 23 2020. Later there was a short, sharp second lockdown in November. The third one, under which England will at least partially remain until June 2021, started on January 6 2021.

    Boris Johnson has said that he hopes the new lockdown will be the country’s last. The roadmap out of lockdown should bring England “cautiously but irreversibly” out of the restrictions.

    In November, the Scottish government put 11 areas, including Glasgow, under level four Covid restrictions. They did not announce another lockdown. This level had the harshest restrictions of Scotland’s five tier system. Under the rules, pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops had to close. There were also strict rules around socialising.

    Northern Ireland also faced two weeks of harsher restrictions back in late November. Non-essential retail had to shut and the hospitality sector closed their doors again. Schools stayed open, as they did in England as well. Contact services reopened briefly but closed again one week later. While the restrictions were heavy, they did not amount to a “full” lockdown.

    Wales, however, took on harsher restrictions earlier in October to slow the spread of coronavirus. Their ‘firebreak lockdown‘ lasted for 17 days, after which hospitality and leisure venues were able to reopen but households were not allowed to mix.

    Which other countries are still in lockdown?

    France

    From June 9, the French government will push the 9pm curfew back to 11pm. Restaurants, cafes and bars can serve customers indoors at a 50% capacity, with a maximum of six people per table. Museums, cinemas, sports venues and non-essential shops will also be able to increase their capacity.

    Then from June 30, providing all goes well, all restrictions and the curfew will come to an end.

    A street in Paris, France, where many of the lockdown restrictions have come to an end

    Credit: Getty

    Germany

    Germany has been in lockdown since November and the government are now lifting measures. But restrictions will stay tighter in areas where infection rates are higher.

    People must wear medical grade face masks in shops and on public transport. Children aged between 12 and 15 can now receive the Pfizer vaccine. The UK is rolling out a similar system, with the Pfizer vaccine approved for children, possibly from autumn this year.

    Outdoor terraces and restaurants in Germany can now reopen, as can open-air venues for concerts and museums.

    Italy

    Restaurants and bars in Italy are open for indoor service, with a maximum of four people unless they’re from the same household.

    Empty streets in Milan during the coronavirus lockdown last year

    Credit: Getty

    Sports venues can also reopen but only to a 25% capacity and the midnight curfew is ending on June 21.

    Some regions in Italy are “white zones”, where there are very low levels of coronavirus. In these areas, social distancing and wearing masks indoors are the only restrictions in place. If the infection levels continue to improve, cities such as Rome and Milan will join this group.

    Spain

    Spain is one of the countries welcoming all vaccinated tourists. From June 7, anyone with both jabs can travel from the UK to Spain without having to quarantine on their arrival. However as Spain is on the UK’s amber list, travellers have to quarantine when they get back to the UK.

    Shops, bars, restaurants and museums are open – but masks remain compulsory.

    Greece

    Much like Spain, Greece is allowing tourists into the country. They have to have both jabs or have proof of a negative test.

    Masks are still mandatory in public spaces. Bars and restaurants are open to allow six people per table, beaches are open with social distancing requirements in place. An overnight curfew, from the hours of 12.30am and 5am is still in place. But museums and outdoor archeological sites are all open again.

    This reflects the situation in most other parts of Europe. Many countries are now beginning to lift coronavirus restrictions to both residents and foreign tourists.