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

We finally have an end date to the restrictions on the horizon.
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  • Last year was certainly one to remember and 2021 has continued in much the same way, as we're still under some tight restrictions. So when were the very first measures put in place? When did the most recent ones come in and for how long will they last? 

    The answer to ‘how long have we been in lockdown in the UK?’ is ever changing, after another lockdown was announced in January and is set to last until at least June 2021 under the roadmap out of lockdown. What we once, over a year ago now, thought was going to be a couple of weeks break from normal life is now set to last for a year and three months – if everything goes well.

    On the plus side, we’re in a different position in the third lockdown compared to the first one, when we knew very little about the virus. Now, we have the widespread rollout of the Pfizer and Oxford vaccine and it has led to over 25 million people receiving their first dose, with positive research coming out about the effect of the vaccine on the Covid-19 variants.

    The success of the programme has made it possible for the government to lift some restrictions recently, with up to six people or two different households now allowed to meet in a public or private space outdoors. So while the prime minister has urged caution about relying on these given dates, there is finally an end to lockdown in sight.

    How long have we been in lockdown in the UK?

    England’s third lockdown came into place on January 6. 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.

    The last lockdown of this severity, where schools and colleges closed, was the first lockdown which officially 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 all those months ago included restricted reasons for leaving home and social mixing prohibited. Shops, restaurants, bars and all other hospitality venues were also forced to close while ‘working from home’ became standard for the very first time. Shortly after it was announced, the first lockdown was extended for another three weeks, before restrictions were eased 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. Coming out of this lockdown, 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 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. This lockdown is still in place until March 8, when some restrictions are being lifted.

    From this day onwards, the ‘stay at home’ order has been enforced which means that everyone has stay inside wherever possible and only leave their home for essential reasons. These essential reasons include going to work for those who can’t work from home, mixing with your support bubble only, exercise outdoors and shopping for essential food and medicines. Schools and colleges will close, school exams in 2021 will be cancelled, but nurseries can stay open for childcare purposes.

    On New Year’s Eve, dozens of parties were disbanded by police across the country and protests outside hospitals against the lockdown rules were broken up. Fines for breaking lockdown rules were issued hundreds of times and as a result, it’s thought that now the police will be more stringent with breaking up groups of people who ignore the new order to stay at home.

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

    The UK lockdown started to lift from March 8, 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.

    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. He hopes that all social restrictions will be removed from June 21 2021.

    two men walking together during lockdown

    Credit: Getty

    He said, “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 will work in four steps, Boris Johnson said, 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.

    All being well, the restrictions will continue to lift throughout the spring.

    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 also return. The ‘stay at home’ guidance is now scrapped in favour of other travel advice, meaning people have to ‘stay local’ to their homes still.

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

    Friends meeting in back garden under new lockdown rules from March 29

    Credit: Getty

    From April 12, non-essential retail and personal care services will reopen again. This will include hairdressers and nail salons. Indoor leisure facilities like gyms will also reopen, as will holiday lets (but only for individuals and household groups). Pubs and restaurants will reopen for outdoor serving after this data 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 can re-open.

    From May 17 as long as the data meets all four criteria, “most restrictions on meetings outdoors will be lifted, subject to a limit of thirty”, Boris Johnson explained.

    This is when everyone will be able to see family and friends indoors, subject to the Rule of Six or two households. Pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers indoors again and indoor cinemas, children’s play areas, hotels, hostels and B&BS will reopen. Theatres and concern halls will open 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.”

    From June 21, “all legal limits on social contact” will be removed. This essentially signals a complete end to the lockdown, as there’s previously never been a total lift of all the Covid prevention measures such as social distancing.

    “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.”

    However, the lockdown travel rules will remain much the same in many cases. Anyone returning from any of the 33 countries on the government’s ‘red list’ will have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 day on their return to the country so it’s not safe to book a holiday for 2021 just yet. A holiday to somewhere in the UK could certainly be on the cards though, as Matt Hancock has already confirmed that he’s booked a getaway to Cornwall for the summer and the ‘stay at home’ order will be lifted from the end of March.

    two women sat on bench during lockdown

    Credit: Getty

    The lockdown exercise rules will be scrapped from March 8, when two people will 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 won’t be the case from next month.

    There is also no guarantee that the lockdown rules will end by the given dates, as the government has the authority to prolong the lockdown. Matt Hancock, for instance, gave a new expiry date of July 17 to The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.3) Regulations 2020. Originally brought in last summer, the regulations were due to expire in January but were extended 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 the four criteria are not met and the prime minister has 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.”

    This is predominantly positive news though, with a plan finally down on paper to answer the question of when lockdown in the UK will end. All of which was made possible thanks to the extended rollout of the vaccination programme, the prime minister said. “The threat remains substantial, with the numbers in hospital only now beginning to fall below the peak of the first wave in April.

    “But we are able to take these steps 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 long since been given as 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 as 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. The restrictions have differed and been lifted at different times in each of the devolved nations, however.

    Woman wearing a face mask next to a sign that says "is your journey necessary?"

    Credit: Getty

    In England, the first lockdown begun on March 23 2020 and was followed by a short, sharp second lockdown later 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, as 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 instead of announcing a nationwide lockdown. This level had the harshest restrictions of Scotland’s five tier system and 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 was forced to close their doors again but schools were allowed to stay open, as they were in England as well. Contact services were allowed to reopen briefly but had to close 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?

    While some countries around the world appear to have largely gone back to ‘normal’, many of those in Europe are still firmly under lockdown measures.

    France

    The French government recently announced tightened measures for Paris and several other regions in the north and south of the country.

    Street in Montmartre, Paris, France

    Credit: Getty

    Non-essential businesses have to close, but schools and hairdressers can stay open. People will be allowed to exercise outdoors as long as they don’t travel for more than 6 miles. They are not allowed to travel at all to any other parts of the country without a valid reason.

    Famously in the first lockdown, those living in France had to fill out a form to explain why they had left their homes and the same form will be required this time around too.

    Germany

    Germany had planned a five day national lockdown at the beginning of April but this has been cancelled, after plans to lock down were widely criticised. Instead, the current restrictions will be extended until April 18.

    Any further re-openings of businesses will be suspended in areas where the infections of Covid-19 are over 100 cases per 100,000 people.

    In Germany, unlike other countries in Europe, people are required to wear clinical masks rather than any type of face covering in shops and on public transport. This might include single-use marks or filtered face-piece respirators, otherwise known as FFP2 masks.

    Sweden

    Sweden famously rejected the idea of a nationwide lockdown when other countries were shutting down for the first time. But on January 10 2021, they instigated a new emergency law.

    Colourful buildings Stortorget, Stockholm, Sweden

    Credit: Getty

    This law gave the government the ability to enforce coronavirus restrictions for the very first time. Although Sweden isn’t going into a full lockdown, there will be mandatory restrictions such as limited numbers in shops and gyms. There will be a rule of four in restaurants and bars, similar to the UK’s Rule of Six. Inside shopping malls and large retail store cafes, this number will be reduced to one person per table.

    Italy

    A new lockdown is in place for the Easter period in many Italian regions, including Rome and Milan. As per the first lockdown, people have to stay at home except for work, health and other essential reasons.

    While the lockdown will only affect some regions, over the three day period Easter period of April 3 to 5, there will be a country-wide shutdown to prevent social mixing.

    Denmark

    Denmark still has many lockdown measures in place.

    They are, however, set to open small shopping centres from April 13 and outdoor eating venues from April 21. Bigger shopping centres will also be able to open around this time. Cinemas, along with indoor dining venues, will be able to open from May 6.

    View to lit city with Aarhus River at the forefront

    Credit: Getty

    Spain

    Much like other European countries, Spain is under a nationwide curfew until May 2021. This means that people are allowed to go outside to go to work, for school, to buy medicine and care for elderly people or children but for limited other reasons.

    Portugal

    Mainland Portugal has been in a state of emergency since January and this is set to last until March 31. From March 15, some businesses and nurseries will reopen and primary school children will be able to return to face-to-face teaching.

    More lockdown restrictions are set to be lifted from April with shops reopening, as well as museums, secondary schools and universities.

    Netherlands

    While some restrictions have been lifted in the Netherlands, there is still a curfew in place until the end of March. Bars and restaurants also remain closed for now, along with non-essential shops.

    Groups of more than two people are banned from gathering.