The i newsletter latest news and analysis
Under the measures people are only allowed to leave their homes for certain specific reasons, with schools closed to the majority of pupils and all non-essential businesses closed in an attempt to ease pressure on the embattled NHS.
When will lockdown end?
In an announcement on 27 January, the Prime Minister said that measures will remain in place until at least 8 March – the target date for schools reopening.
He added that the “economic and social restrictions” could be eased “then or thereafter,” and it is unlikely that there will be any acceleration of this given that schools remain the Government’s stated priority.
The Government is set to publish its “plan for taking the country out of lockdown” in the week commencing Monday 22 February.
This timetable is based on progress in vaccinating the most vulnerable groups in society by mid-February and then giving the jab time to take effect.
Mr Johnson said: “By the middle of February, if things go well and with a fair wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.”
He added that “we should remain cautious about the timetable ahead,” but said there was cause for hope if the vaccination programme rolls out as planned and deaths fall as a result.
Michael Gove subsequently suggested it was more likely that lockdown would remain in place until March, telling Sky News: “I think it is right to say that, as we enter March, we should be able to lift some of these restrictions, but not necessarily all.”
During his address to MPs ahead of the vote on the new Covid rules on Wednesday 6 January, Mr Johnson explained that the emergence from lockdown will be “gradual,” explaining why the legislation involved was written to run until 31 March.
He told MPs: “As was the case last spring, our emergence from the lockdown cocoon will not be a big bang but a gradual unwrapping.
“That is why the legislation this House will vote on later today runs until 31 March. Not because we expect the full national lockdown to continue until then, but to allow a steady, controlled and evidence-led move down through the tiers on a regional basis – carefully, brick by brick, as it were, breaking free of our confinement but without risking the hard won gains that our protections have given us.”
On Sunday 17 January, Dominic Raab indicated that, as long as the Government’s vaccination programme continued to progress, lockdown could begin to be eased from March, when England would re-enter the tier system.
He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I think it is fair to say it won’t be a big bang, if you like, it will be done phased, possibly back through the tiered approach that we had before.”
The Prime Minister was then questioned on whether the rules could remain in place until the summer on Thursday 21 January, responding: “I think it’s too early to say when we’ll be able to lift some of the restrictions.”
Downing Street later refused to rule out the possibility that the restrictions could last into the summer months, saying only: “We will continue to keep all of the scientific evidence and data under review.”
This outcome was further hinted at by reports in The Telegraph, which suggested there will not be a full relaxation of the rules until all over-50s have had their vaccine, meaning the country could return to “normal” in the first week of July.
On 25 January, Mr Johnson created more confusion by saying that the Government was “looking at the potential of relaxing some measures” before mid-February. However, a clarification was later issued that it was the “looking at” which would come ahead of the review, but not the “relaxing”.
When will the first lockdown review be?
During his address on 6 January, the Prime Minister said that the lockdown rules would be reviewed every two weeks.
This follows the protocol for the four-tier system, which was subject to review every other Wednesday – although as it transpired, the tiers changed far more regularly as Covid cases continued to increase at an alarming rate.
Mr Johnson said: “These restrictions will be kept under continuous review with a statutory requirement to review every two weeks and a legal obligation to remove them if they are no longer deemed necessary to limit the transmission of the virus.”
The Prime Minister subsequently reiterated 15 February, the date he originally announced as the start of the route of lockdown, telling reporters on 21 January: “We’ll look then at how we’re doing.”
This will be followed by the Government’s plan for a “gardual and phased” easing of lockdown in the week commencing 22 February.
The Prime Minister said: “That plan will, of course, depend on the continued success of our vaccination programme, the capacity of the NHS, and on deaths falling at the pace we would expect as more people are inoculated.”
Before the lockdown vote some MPs expressed concerns that the legislation meant the Covid restrictions could not be eased for several months.
Prominent Conservative backbencher Sir Graham Brady said: “Approving these regulations today would allow for lockdown for three months until the end of March.”
He said that the PM had assured him MPs would not have to “wait that long” for an opportunity to decide whether to end the regulations, asking: “Will he go further and give a commitment to a further vote at the end of January and end of February, so this House will have control over what is happening?”
Matt Hancock replied: “While these regulations do provide for new restrictions until the end of March, it is not because we expect the full national lockdown to continue until then but to allow the steady, controlled and evidence-led move down through the tiers on a local basis.
“Those tier changes do require a vote in Parliament. The restrictions will therefore be kept under continuous review, there’s a statutory requirement to review every two weeks and a legal obligation to remove them if they’re no longer deemed necessary to limit the transmission of the virus.”
What are England’s lockdown rules?
The lockdown is enshrined in law and police can take action if people leave home without a reasonable excuse.
- People must only leave the house for limited reasons, such as shopping for necessities such as food and medicine, providing care or voluntary aid, or medical reasons.
- Exercise will be allowed – preferably limited to once a day – with members of your household or support bubble or one other person from another household.
- People will be able to go to work if it is impossible to work from home, such as those in the construction sector or who are critical workers. All others must work from home.
- All primary and secondary schools and colleges move to remote learning, except for the children of keyworkers or vulnerable children, but early years settings such as nurseries and childminders can stay open.
- University students will not be allowed to return to campus and will be expected to study from home.
- Places of worship can remain open for individual prayers and communal worship, but weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are allowed only in exceptional circumstances,
- All non-essential shops, hairdressers and personal care salons must close, although supermarkets, pharmacies, off-licences, builders’ merchants and garden centres are among businesses which can stay open.
- Restaurants and other hospitality venues can continue with delivery or takeaway (excluding alcohol) – cinemas, skating rinks and bowling alleys must remain closed.
- Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable and who were previously told to shield should stay at home and only leave for medical appointments and exercise.
- Visits to care homes can take place only with “substantial screens, visiting pods, or behind windows”.
- Playgrounds can stay open but gyms (indoor and outdoor), tennis courts, swimming pools and golf courses must close, and outdoor team sports will not be permitted – although the Premier League and other elite sports can continue.
- The buying and selling of houses can continue, but people should not ask others outside their support bubble to help them move.
- Overnight stays outside support bubbles and holidays in the UK and abroad are not allowed, including staying in a second home or caravan.
— to inews.co.uk