How many people can meet up outside and indoors is changing and will continue to do so over the next few months, as the third lockdown in England slowly lifts.
Since the beginning of lockdown, before the first set of restrictions lifted on March 8, meeting up with anyone outside your household or support bubble was against the law.
The only exception was for those unable to work from home and people going out under the lockdown exercise rules, which allowed for two people to meet up for a workout.
As of late March, over 28 million people in the UK had received their first Covid-19 vaccination. With the rollout plan being a success from the early days, the government announced their roadmap out of lockdown for England – which includes dates for when people will be able to meet up with others again.
But with concerns over the new variants of Covid-19, the lockdown is still being gradually lifted in stages.
How many people can meet outside?
As of March 29 2021, six people from multiple households or a larger group from two households can meet outdoors in a public or private space. This could be a park, beach or someone’s back garden.
People from the same household or support bubble will also be able to continue to gather outdoors for recreational reasons, as they have been allowed to do since March 8. Before this time, the only reason to be outdoors at all was for essential reasons or exercise – limited to once per day.
The roadmap also dictates that the ‘stay at home’ rule is ending, although the government is still urging people to stay local as much as possible. Overnight stays with family, for instance, are still off the table as well. Social distancing should still be maintained with anyone you don’t live with.
The rules will change again on April 12 when members of the same household will be able to take a holiday in self-contained accommodation in England. Restaurants and pubs will be allowed to open their outdoor spaces, so the rule of six or two households will also apply here too. Most other outdoor settings will also be allowed to reopen at this time, followed by a total relaxation of rules around social contact outdoors from May 17 – “although gatherings of over 30 people will remain illegal.”
All social contact rules for outside (and indoors) will hopefully be scrapped anytime from June 21, provided that the criteria for lifting lockdown are met at each lockdown review date.
How many people can meet indoors?
At the moment, no one can meet up indoors with someone who isn’t in their household or support bubble.
The first time that two people, who don’t live together or share a bubble, will be able to meet up indoors will be after May 17. From this date, if all goes well, six people or up to two households will be able to meet up indoors in a public or private space.
According to the roadmap, all indoor socialising will be permitted from this date. “Indoor hospitality,” the guidance states, “Entertainment venues such as cinemas and soft play areas, the rest of the accommodation sector and indoor adult group sports and exercise classes will also reopen.”
Gyms and leisure centres will reopen earlier from April 12, but social contact should only be between people who live together or share a support bubble. Exercise classes, for example, won’t be allowed.
The prime minister said that from June 21 the government hopes to “reopen nightclubs, and lift restrictions on large events”. They will also consider whether “limits can be removed on weddings and other life events”.
The government hopes that the increased protection offered by vaccines will gradually replace the restrictions, with the roadmap published today providing the principles of the transition.”
How many households can meet in the UK?
The rules differ between each of the devolved nations in the UK.
From March 29 in England, up to six people or two households can meet up outdoors. This can be for social reasons rather than exercise, such as going for a picnic or a coffee. Sitting down on a bench, for example, is now allowed where it previously was not before the first set of restrictions lifted on March 8.
Any households in England meeting up before March 29 must do so outdoors and in a public space, the roadmap dictates. This is to ensure that social distancing can still be maintained and there is little risk of being indoors together.
Scotland has recently unveiled their plans for lifting lockdown and announced a “progressive easing” of the restrictions.
In Scotland’s level four areas, two people from two households have been allowed to meet outdoors – although children under 12 are not included in the limit. This is set to change in the week beginning March 8, when the number of people allowed to mix outdoors will likely increase.
In Wales, people in areas that are still in alert level 4 must stay at home. They “must not visit other households or meet other people they do not live with” either outside or indoors.
The next lockdown review for Wales will be held by First Minister Mark Drakeford on March 12. Lockdown rules on meeting up with others outside or indoors could be lifted anytime from after this date, although it hasn’t been confirmed yet.
In Northern Ireland, the plan is very different. The Stormont Executive decided against a roadmap with dates, unlike England, as it would only lead to “disappointment” if the dates couldn’t be met after all.
However, ministers say that they hope to announce a decision on when lockdown will be fully lifted after the next set of reviews on March 16.
Rules to follow when meeting up with other households both outside and indoors
Even when the rules on meeting up with others indoors are lifted, there’s still likely to be some rules in place. This is what they could be, based on the advice last year:
- Face masks will stay mandatory on all forms of public transport and in any indoor spaces where social distancing can’t be maintained, including in restaurants before being seated.
- If possible, people will be asked to move outdoors where there is more space so the virus can’t spread as easily.
- If you have to stay indoors, people will be asked to make sure rooms are well ventilated and to keep the windows and all doors open.
- Clinically vulnerable people (including those with underlying health conditions and those over 70) can still meet people indoors and outdoors, but extra care should be taken around increased hygiene and social distancing.
- You can still use public transport if you are travelling to visit someone indoor or outdoors now, but the government could urge that if you can travel in another way, you should do so.
- You will likely be able to, with ventilation and a focus on hygiene, share a private vehicle with someone from outside of your household. But if possible, avoid doing this.
Alongside the lockdown reviews to announce whether the restrictions can be lifted further, independent reviews will take place on subjects such as mask wearing, international travel and social distancing.
Who counts in the rule of six?
Anyone and everyone counts in the rule of six, according to Michael Gove.
Last year, when the rule was in place for how many people can meet outside and indoors, the minister confirmed that the rule of six wouldn’t exempt children under 12 as many thought it would.
As restaurants and pubs reopened, many families were turned away from their bookings as they hadn’t counted in babies and young children within the limits.
What new powers have been given to the police to enforce the law?
How many people can meet outside and indoors has been policed since the beginning of lockdown, with fines in place for breaking lockdown rules.
Over 60,000 of these fines have been issued in England between the end of March last year and February 14 2021, according to the latest National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) report.
272 of these were £10,000 fines, handed out to organisers of mass gatherings of more than 30 people. These have included the illegal raves, parties and protests which have hit the headlines in England over the last few months.
485 fines of £800 were handed out for people going to gatherings of more than 15 people and over 2000 fixed penalty notices were handed out to people for breaching face covering rules, between June 15 last year and February 14 this year. This included 456 on public transport and 1888 in other relevant places, including shops.
It followed a statement from Cressida Dick, London’s Metropolitan Police commissioner, which confirmed those who broke the rules in 2021 were “increasingly likely” to be fined. She said that the Covid-19 laws would be utilised “more quickly” as officers have had to break up parties, while the NHS was under significant strain.