Policy responses for United Kingdom - HSRM

United Kingdom

Policy responses for United Kingdom

1.2 Physical distancing

Update 18th May 2021

England has moved into Step 3 of the reopening Roadmap, after the government’s four tests” (vaccine deployment continues successfully; evidence shows vaccines reduce hospitalisations and deaths; infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations; variants of concern do not change risk assessments) were deemed to have been met and infections were at the lowest level since September 2020.

From May 17th, indoor hospitality and entertainment venues reopened, organised adult sports and exercises were allowed, up to 6 people or 2 households could meet indoors and up to 30 people outdoors and care home residents can have up to five named visitors, provided visitors have been tested and follow infection control measures. People are also allowed to travel to countries on the green list, where inbound travel is permitted.



Update 13th April 2021

All UK nations have significantly eased lockdown restrictions. Shops and retail outlets, gyms and swimming pools are now open, and pubs, bars and restaurants are able to serve food outside. People are also able to mix with different households outdoors (with different limits on the number of people per nation).

The next phase of re-opening is scheduled for May 17th in England and Wales, 24th May in Northern Ireland and 17th May in Scotland.

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-52530518 

Update 24 February 2021

Scotland’s First Minister has announced a three-phase “Route Map” out of lockdown restrictions. According to the plan:

  •  March 15: more school pupils and some university/college students can return to in-person teaching. Outdoor sports for children 12-17 will be allowed. Four people from two households will be allowed to meet outdoors.
 •  From April 5 at the earliest, the ‘stay at home’ restrictions will be lifted. All remaining school pupils will return to in-person teaching. Places of worship will open for services and non-essential retail will open for click and collect. Six people from two households will be allowed to meet outdoors.
  • From April 26 at the earliest. If the WHO’s six conditions for safe easing are met and all priority vaccination groups have been offered their first vaccine dose, restrictions will revert to being decided on a regional rather than nationwide basis. Non-essential retail, pubs and restaurants and gyms, swimming pools and other leisure activities can re-open.

Update 22 February 2020

The Prime Minister has released a four-step roadmap to ease restrictions in England. Before each step can be implemented, four tests must be met, meaning the road-map is based on ‘data not dates’. The four tests are:

  • The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully.
  • Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated.
  • Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.
  • Assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern.

To give time to assess the impact of each step, there will be a minimum of five weeks between each one that includes a four-week period for the data to reflect changes in restrictions and a subsequent seven days’ notice period of the easing of restrictions.
The four steps for the roadmap are:

STEP 1: March 8th – all school pupils can return to in-person teaching and other childcare services can re-open. Some universities providing practical courses can also re-start in-person teaching. Care home residents will be allowed one visitor, provided they wear PPE. By this stage everyone in the top four priority vaccine groups should have been vaccinated.

On March 29th, stay at home order will end, but other lockdown measures will remain in place. Restrictions will be eased to allow outdoor gatherings in parks/gardens of up to six people/two households, while outdoor sports facilities can re-open.

STEP 2: No earlier than April 12, most outdoor attractions, non-essential retail, hairdressers, public buildings (e.g. libraries), indoor leisure facilities (e.g. gyms and swimming pools) will reopen. Hospitality venues will be able to serve people outdoors, self-contained accommodation (e.g. holiday lets) can reopen, up to 30 people can attend funerals and 15 people weddings and other commemorative events.

STEP 3: no earlier than May 17. Most social contact rules will end, and up to 30 people will be allowed to gather outdoors. Up to six people/two households will be allowed to meet indoors and indoor seating at pubs/restaurants as well as cinemas will be allowed to reopen. Up to 10,000 spectators will be allowed to return to large stadiums.

STEP 4: no earlier than June 21. All legal limits on social contact can be lifted. Restrictions on large events and performances may be lifted and nightclubs may be allowed to reopen.
Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-sets-out-roadmap-to-cautiously-ease-lockdown-restrictions 

Update 21 February 2021

Lockdowns in Northern Ireland and Wales have been extended. In Wales, ‘stay at home’ orders will remain in place for another three weeks until March 12th. In Northern Ireland, lockdown has been extended to April 1st. However, school and nurseries will re-open earlier if the epidemiological situation allows, with primary school pupils scheduled to return to in-person teaching on March 15th in Wales, and nurseries and some primary-age groups returning from March 22nd in Northern Ireland.

Update 15th January 2021

Scotland has announced six new lockdown rules. These include:

  1. Click and collect services are limited to retailers selling essential items including clothes, baby equipment, books and homeware
  2. People can no longer collect takeaways from inside a premises and must instead collect from a serving hatch or doorway
  3. Alcohol cannot be consumed outside in Tier 4 (lockdown) areas
  4. Legal obligations for employers to help employees work from home are being strengthened
  5. Constructions and maintenance work in private households must only take place if essential for upkeep, maintenance and functioning of the dwelling
  6. An amendment has been made to the stay at home message to make it clear that people "must not leave or remain outside" the home unless it is for an essential purpose.

More details can be viewed here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/

Update 7th January 2021

Due to concerns over a new variant of coronavirus in circulation in the UK, which early models suggest may be between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible than older variants, and a substantial increase in the number of Covid patients in hospitals, almost all areas of the UK are now in lockdown.

England and mainland Scotland were placed into lockdown on 4th January. People must now legally stay at home except under certain circumstances such as (but not limited to) shopping for essential foods and medicines, caring for vulnerable people, going to essential work that cannot be carried out from home or daily exercise. The full list of exceptions for England can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home. And for Scotland here: https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/

Schools in England and Scotland are likely to be closed until February, but remain open for vulnerable children and children of key workers such as NHS staff.

Northern Ireland entered a six-week national lockdown on 26th December, which is due to stay in place until 6th February. People are not permitted to leave home without a reasonable excuse. The full list of lockdown rules in Northern Ireland can be viewed here:  https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-regulations-guidance-what-restrictions-mean-you 

Wales was placed in a national lockdown on December 20th 2020, which is likely to remain in place until February. Non-essential businesses must close and people must only leave home for a limited number of reasons. The full list of lockdown rules in Wales can be viewed here: https://gov.wales/alert-level-4-frequently-asked-questions 

Update 19th December 2020

In response to reports that a new variant is circulating in England, the South East and London were placed into newly created Tier 4 restrictions, in which household mixing was stopped (apart from meeting with one person outside for a walk), restaurants and shops were closed. Households were asked not to meet on Christmas day. Households in Tiers 1-3 are only able to mix on Christmas day and not from 23rd -27th December as previously announced.

Update 10th December 2020

All UK nations have agreed to temporarily relax COVID-19 restrictions over the holiday period. From 23rd-27th December (22nd-28th in Northern Ireland). During this period, people will be able to form a ‘Christmas bubble’ of three households that can mix indoors and outdoors and there will be no restrictions on travel. In Scotland, bubbles can contain up to 8 people, excluding under 12s; while there is no size limit in the other nations, guidance specifies that bubbles should be as small as possible.

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-55056375 

Update 3rd December 2020

The second national lockdown in England ended on Wednesday 2nd December and was replaced by a new regional three Tier system, which strengthens the previous Tier system prior to lockdown. Areas are placed into a tier based on 5 key epidemiological indicators:
• case detection rates in all age groups
• case detection rates in the over-60s
• the rate at which cases are rising or falling
• positivity rate (the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests taken)
• pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy

Under Tier 1: Medium Alert, people must not socialise in groups of more than 6 indoors and outdoors, pubs and restaurants can only provide table service and must stop serving at 10pm, weddings (up to 15 people) and funerals (up to 30 people) can continue, outdoor sport is permitted and performances, shows, spectator sports and business events can be attended by up to 4000 outdoors and 1000 indoors. In Tier 2: high alert areas, additional rules include no mixing indoors between different households outside of support bubbles, only socialising with up to 6 people outdoors, pubs can only operate if serving food, and performances, shows, spectator sports and business events can be attended by up to 2000 outdoors and 1000 indoors. Additional rules in Tier 3 areas include: hospitality, non-essential retail and entertainment venues must close, people must not mix with other households indoors or outdoors, except up to 6 people in specified outdoor spaces. Exemptions were made in each case to support the vulnerable to access childcare support, for children to continue to go to school in all tiers and for people to provide care at the end of life and visit residents in care homes through Perspex screens or through windows.

Full details of Tier restrictions can be viewed here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/local-restriction-tiers-what-you-need-to-know

Update 1st December

Northern Ireland entered a new circuit-break lockdown on 27th November, which will be in effect until 11th December. Non-essential retail, restaurants and hairdressers must close, although schools will remain open and small weddings and funerals allowed. The lockdown came amid reports that three ICUs in the nation were full.

In Wales, pubs and restaurants will be banned from serving alcohol from 4th December, while indoor entertainment venues and visitor attractions must also close.

Update 9th November 2020

Wales has ended its two-week ‘fire-break’ lockdown. Two households are now able to form a bubble and can meet inside, up to 15 people can meet for organised activities indoors and 30 outdoors, and there are no more travel restrictions in Wales. People can only travel to England for essential purposes.

Update 2nd November 2020

Scotland has implemented a new five-tier system for regional Covid restrictions based on the number of cases per 100,000 people, the ratio of positive test results, projections of new cases and the capacity of local hospitals and ICUs. The following regional restrictions will apply:

  • Level 0 nearly normal: allows indoor meetings of a maximum of 8 people from 3 households and 15 people from 5 households outdoors;
  • Level 1 medium: allows indoor meetings of a maximum of 6 people from 2 households
  • Level 2 high: no indoor meeting of different households; 6 people from 2 households can meet outdoors and in hospitality settings; pubs, bars, restaurants can only sell alcohol with a main meal and until 8pm
  • Level 3 very high: alcohol sales not permitted indoors or outdoors. Cafes, pubs, restaurants must close at 6pm and serve only food and non-alcoholic drinks
  • Level 4 lockdown: all non-essential shops and services closed

Schools will stay open at all levels. All of the country’s 32 local authorities are currently in tiers 1-3.

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-52530518 

Update 31st October 2020

The Prime Minister has announced that a month-long lockdown will be implemented in England from 5th November to 2nd December in light of rapidly rising COVID infections and hospital admissions. Under the new lockdown, people will be required to stay at home except for education, work that cannot be done at home, exercise, medical reasons, shopping for essentials, or to care for others. Support bubbles for people living alone are permitted. All non-essential shops and pubs and restaurants must close except for takeaway food, weddings and civil partnerships are not allowed and funerals can only be attended by 30 people. Schools, colleges, universities and nurseries will remain open. Visits to care homes are also permitted provided COVID secure measures are in place such as use of floor-to-ceiling screens, visiting pods, or outdoor or window visits.

Source: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/1200/pdfs/uksi_20201200_en.pdf?utm_source=hootsuite&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=post

Update 19th October 2020

The Welsh Government has announced that a two week ‘fire-break lockdown’ will be in place from 6pm Friday 23 October to Monday 9 November to ‘slow the spread of COVID-19, alleviate pressure on our health services and save lives’. During the lockdown, people must stay at home, except for very specific and limited reasons, must not meet other households except for single households/single parent households who can ‘bubble’ with one other, within or outside of their county and all non-essential shops and services must close. Schools and childcare facilities will remain open.

Source: https://phw.nhs.wales/topics/latest-information-on-novel-coronavirus-covid-19/staff-information-page1/covid-19-staff-news/new-fire-break-lockdown-announced-what-does-it-mean-for-me/ 

Update 16th October 2020

Due to an increase in COVID cases, Northern Ireland has introduced a number of new restrictions. These measures included no household mixing indoors in private homes, with some exceptions such as for childcare, bubbling with one other household, moving house, building or maintenance work. Up to 6 people from 2 households can meet outdoors. Hospitality venues can only offer takeaway services, with restricted opening hours. While schools will close for an extended half term break, they will re-open on November 2nd.

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-52622127 

Update 14th October 2020

England has moved to a three tier local level alert system for COVID-19 in an effort to simplify and standardize local measures to combat COVID-19. The three alert levels are very high (Tier 3), high (Tier 2) and medium (Tier 1) and are based on a number of indicators including incidence and test positivity, especially in at risk groups, as well as the growth rate and hospital admissions. Restrictions under Tier 1 ‘medium’, which currently covers most of the country, includes the ‘rule of six’ where no more than six people can meet in indoor and outdoor settings and hospitality venues including pubs must close at 10pm. Tier 2 ‘high’ restrictions additionally include no mixing between households or support bubbles indoors, while the rule of 6 applies outdoors. Tier 3 ‘very high’ restrictions additionally prohibit social mixing indoors and in private gardens, while hospitality venues can only stay open if they serve substantial meals and may only serve alcohol as part a meal. People will be advised not to travel in and out of Tier 3 areas.

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-54371943

Liverpool (609 cases per 100,000 population and a 14.3% week-on-week rise in cases) and surrounding local authorities were the first to be classified as ‘very high’ risk and placed under new temporary measures.



9th October 2020

Data from the You Gov poll suggested that 65% of the public would support a circuit breaker, described as a 2 week lockdown including the closing or regulating of pubs, bars, restaurants and leisure facilities with socilaing in households banned.

Sources: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/survey-results/daily/2020/10/09/26286/1?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=daily_questions&utm_campaign=question_2  and https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54518002 

Update 22nd September, 2020

There was an announcement in early September, followed by the passing of new legislation to mandate that people in England can only socialise in groups of 6 from any number of households (indoors and outdoors) across the country unless these meetings are for educational activities, childcare, support groups, weddings, organised sport outdoors, communal prayer, funerals and other activities considered to be essential. Weddings were initially limited to 30 people but this has now been reduced to 15. While sites for communal prayer have no upper limit as long as distancing is maintained. The new law allows police to disperse gatherings of more than 6 people and fine individuals involved £100, up to a maximum of £3200. Organisers of large gatherings (e.g. unlicensed music events) can be fined up to £10,000. (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do).

As areas in the North East of England started to see exponential growth in incidence, restrictive measures were introduced, to prevent households mixing at all, either at home or in public spaces (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/stronger-measures-introduced-in-parts-of-the-north-east-to-tackle-rising-infection-rates).

As the incidence is now rising and following on from similar restrictions in the North East, the government announced on September 22nd that individuals should return to work from home unless it is necessary for them to go to work. Pubs and restaurants in England, Scotland and Wales have also now been banned from having customers after 10pm, with all customers also required to be seated at tables and to wear a face covering when not at a table. In Wales, off-licences and supermarkets will also be prevented from serving alcohol after 10pm and hospitality businesses will only be able to provide table service. All pub, restaurant and shop staff are also now required to wear a face covering, although it is unclear whether this will still include a visor in place of a mask as before. Spectators for sporting activities are also to be ended.

In Wales, the rule of 6 was not adopted outdoors and individuals were allowed to mix in groups of no larger than 30 people outdoors, while indoor groups were restricted to 6 people aged over 11 from an ‘extended household’. Some local areas (Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport and Rhondda Cynon Taf People) with a concerning rise in COVID-19 cases have been placed under local lockdowns, with people unable to leave or enter these areas without a reasonable excuse.

In Scotland, mixing between households was initially limited to 6 people from 2 households, (excluding children aged over 11), but this has now been restricted and all inter-household mixing has now been banned, except for those living alone, alone with children or who form extended households.

Both Scotland and Wales have maintained 2 metre distancing rules in comparison to the 1m rule in England and Northern Ireland.

People in Scotland and Wales have been advised against making all but essential travel.

Update 21st September, 2020

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has recommended a raft of potential non pharmaceutical interventions to cope with rising transmission and to protect care homes.

These included:
  • A circuit-breaker (short period of lockdown) to return incidence to low levels.
  • Advice to work from home for all those that can.
  • Banning all contact within the home with members of other households (except members of a support bubble)
  • Closure of all bars, restaurants, cafes, indoor gyms, and personal services (e.g. hairdressers)
  • All university and college teaching to be online unless absolutely essential.

Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/925854/S0769_Summary_of_effectiveness_and_harms_of_NPIs.pdf

Update 4th August, 2020

Following a recent rise in cases detected by the ONS and after a prolonged lockdown in Leicester when incidence rose, the government has delayed reopening nationally so that casinos  and bowling alleys can no longer open as expected in August and wedding receptions have been postponed. In the North East and in Yorkshire, test positivity has also risen and these areas are now under enhanced surveillance by DHSC, PHE and local authorities.

This has led to some restrictions, including individuals from different households being asked not to meet and also to increased testing. The NHS Test and Trace data shows that around half of people (50.6%) tested under pillar 2 received the result within 24 hours of taking a test, 81.4% of cases were reached, of which 81.3% provided one or more contact, of which 75.1% were reached and asked to self-isolate, and only 54.7% were contacted within 24 hours of being identified by the positive case. 

Update July 28th 2020

From July 24th, the use of face coverings was mandated in shops, including banks and post offices. Of note, these are not required in hair dressers or beauty salons, where visors are advised, but not face coverings.

Update 14th July 2020

On the 9th July the government announced measures that would allow outdoor pools to reopen from 11 July and indoor gyms, swimming pools and sports facilities to reopen from 25 July. Guidance has been published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has been compiled with input from the trade body ukactive, the Sport and Recreation Alliance, Sport England and other sports bodies, and in consultation with Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive, which includes advice for providers of pool, gym and leisure facilities on cleaning, social distancing, and protection for staff to help venues get back up and running safely. The government has also announced that facemasks will soon be mandatory from July 24th inside shops and crowded areas, rather than only on public transport. At the same time, beauticians and nail bars were also granted approval to open from July 13th using measures such as screens, social distancing and standard infection prevention and control measures. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/beauty-salons-set-to-reopen-for-some-services-next-week-under-new-government-guidelines.

Update 5th July 2020

As of the 4th July, pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, outdoor gyms, children’s playgrounds museums, galleries, social clubs, and places of worship have all now been re-authorised to open, provided they adhere to strict guidance to implement measures to physically distance within these settings. Working safely guidance has been published to guide businesses to implement these measures. People have also been told that they may also stay the night away from home with campsites and hotels reopening. This also includes staying the night at another household, if congregations are limited to only 2 households. Outdoor meetings are still limited to six people from any number of households or an unlimited number if from 2 households. Physical distancing has now been reduced to 1 metre where 2 meters is not feasible.

Measures in Scotland and Wales have not reduced the physical distance from 2m to 1m and Scotland limit all outdoor meetings to 3 households and Wales to 2 households. Indoor meetings in Wales are similarly limited to 2 households, whereas Scotland allows 3 households to meet. 

Update 12th June 2020

The government has announced that non-essential retail shops and zoos can open from Monday 15th June but that pubs, restaurants, nail bars, hairdressers and beauty salons cannot open until July. Despite initial plans for primary schools to return in June, these have been pushed back till September after concerns were raised by the National Teaching Association that it was not feasible to limit classes to 15 children and maintain social distancing. People who live alone are now also allowed to meet with one other family, who would form part of their ‘bubble’.

Update 7th June 2020

On 4th June 2020, the Transport Minister announced that wearing a face covering on public transport in England would be compulsory from 15th June, with people failing to comply potentially subject to a fine. Exemptions will be made for young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties. Travel operators will be allowed to refuse travel to passengers not wearing face coverings, with British Transport Police helping to enforce the policy. It was emphasised that masks should not be those meant for clinical settings to avoid contributing to PPE shortages, and should instead be home-made. The British Medical Association and opposition MPs have criticised the policy for being introduced too late in the outbreak (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52927089).

In addition, from 15th June, all hospital visitors and outpatients will be required to wear face coverings, while all hospital staff must wear surgical masks at all times.  It is unclear whether the supply chain is sufficiently resilient to meet this demand for PPE. The decision was announced without prior consultation with NHS leaders and has faced criticism, with the chief executive officer of NHS Providers suggesting the decision was ‘rushed’ and ‘overly influenced by politics and the need to fill the space at the Downing Street press conferences’ (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/coronavirus-news-face-masks-uk-deaths-lockdown-latest-nhs/).

Update 15th May 2020

The UK government has set out five key criteria, which must be met for the lockdown to be lifted. They had indicated that lockdown would be lifted in a phased way, to enable children to return to school and low risk individuals to return to work first. The government committed to outlining a roadmap to exit lockdown on May 10th (See 1.1 Health Communication, Transition measures). The key principles required to lift lockdown in England are:
  1. Making sure the NHS can deal with the number of people needing treatment
  2. Sustained and consistent fall in daily deaths
  3. Reliable data that infection is decreasing
  4. Ensuring there is enough PPE and testing capacity
  5. No risk a second peak of infections

In terms of lifting strict social distancing measures, the Scottish government has also published a ‘Framework for Decision Making’ in which they outline their plans for monitoring the number of new cases, to ensure that Rt is maintained below 1 and balancing other health, economic and social harms (https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-framework-decision-making/pages/1/). The plan acknowledges that there may be a need to re-impose lockdown measures if the Rt rises sharply and also recognises that measures may vary by geography. It acknowledges the following key measures:
  • Innovative approaches to maintain and enhance physical distancing
  • Continued focus on strong hygiene practices
  • High public community awareness of symptoms and prompt action in response
  • Active surveillance
  • Case finding, contact tracing and quarantining
  • Shielding of clinically at risk groups

On May 9th, ahead of the publication of the recovery plans, the government announced that local authorities had been asked to increase access to active travel by widening pavements for pedestrians and increasing cycle access to avoid potential overcrowding on public transport. On May 11th, after the announcement of the government’s recovery strategy (See 1.1 Health Communication, Transition measures), guidance was published on staying alert and safe and also on staying safe outside the home (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-safe-outside-your-home/staying-safe-outside-your-home) and (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-guidance-on-spending-time-outdoors?utm_source=f3fc1c2a-9679-494b-9830-6451ea9e84de&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate), which stated that:
  - People should go back to work if they could not work from home
  - Other than leaving the house for work, people should only go out to exercise, to shop for essentials or to seek medical care and when they do go out, they should take regular precautions like hand washing and social distancing
  - People who are vulnerable or shielding should continue as much as possible to stay home and should not go out unless necessary
  - Critical workers can still take their children to school
  - Religious ministers can now attend places of worship but the public may not
  - People may drive wherever they wish in England (but not for example in Wales) as long as social distancing is observed
  - Sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open – such as food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research
  - Some outdoor sporting facilities, food markets and garden centres may now open as long as physical distancing is observed
  - Hotels, parks, shops, pubs, cinemas and other public settings are to remain closed
  - People going outside should wear non-medical face coverings to protect others in enclosed spaces, although this is optional and not mandated

Tougher controls were also announced for the police who could now issue a fixed penalty notice of £100, doubling with each repeated offence to people who break the physical distancing rules. Local authorities, particularly Environmental Health Officers will also now regulate businesses to ensure that they uphold the social distancing guidance.

Educational Settings:

After considerable consternation among the teachers who have been anxious for clear guidance ahead of any school re-opening, the government published guidance on May11th setting out plans to welcome back children in Nursery, Reception, year 1 and year 6, alongside priority groups, including childcare and special schools and alternative settings. This is currently planned for June 1st, although keyworker children remain at school until then (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-educational-and-childcare-settings-to-prepare-for-wider-opening-from-1-june-2020/actions-for-education-and-childcare-settings-to-prepare-for-wider-opening-from-1-june-2020).

Protective measures include reducing pinch points, when many people might otherwise gather at the same time (such as parent drop-off), social distancing, reduced class sizes and increased utilisation of outdoor space (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-implementing-protective-measures-in-education-and-childcare-settings). Measures also include increased cleaning, use of PPE and testing, which will also be made available to students and teachers and their households from June 1st. Accompanying this will be a test, trace isolate system, managed by local Health Protection teams in the case of any outbreaks in schools. The government has stated an intention to slowly bring other children back to school with an ambition to bring all primary year groups back to school before the summer holidays, for a month if feasible and funding has been announced by the government to cover additional costs. This decision is based on the rationale that children are less likely to become unwell with COVID-19 but this has not necessarily satisfied teachers or parents, many of whom are still extremely concerned about the feasibility of implementing social distancing among young children.

Transport and Workplace Guidance:

The transport sector has been given guidance about the need to promote social distancing among travellers, by staggering departure times, minimising face to face seating, providing sanitiser, improving communication through the use of posters and announcements and using screens or barriers for example (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-safer-transport-guidance-for-operators?utm_source=945feea5-f72a-4e58-b6a4-2c8237392139&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate
). Workplaces have also been suggested to stagger arrival and break times, minimise meetings, increasing ventilation and providing more storage for workers to keep clothes and bags away. It is unclear how this will be operationalised in such a short timeframe as these announcements were made after the initial recovery plan was announced. Transport for London has responded to these ambitions rapidly and has published their own intention to increase Streetspace in London by working with local Boroughs to identify areas where more support is needed for people to walk and cycle whilst maintaining physical distance. There has been much debate and discomfort about how the return to work may exacerbate inequalities as the lowest paid professions are also the least likely to be able to work from home. This is compounded by recent evidence by the Office for National Statistics showing that some of the lowest paid jobs were at the greatest risk of dying from COVID-19 (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/causesofdeath/bulletins/coronaviruscovid19relateddeathsbyoccupationenglandandwales/deathsregistereduptoandincluding20april2020).

Initially, during the ‘containment’ phase, physical (or social) distancing was advised only for those who were isolating, either because they were cases or contacts of confirmed cases or had returned from a high-risk area but remained asymptomatic. The start of the delay phase was announced on March 12th, and involved stricter measures, with the government asking people to physically distance at home where possible. This was announced in news briefings and the government website but was not publicised elsewhere. Initially, all physical distancing was recommended rather than mandatory, except for quarantine measures (see next section). By this stage in the UK it had been 15 days since the 100th case had been confirmed. For comparison, the same measures were implemented some 9 days after the 100th case in Germany and around 14 days after the 100th case in the US.

On Monday 16th March 2020, there was a blanket recommendation for the public to stay at home and avoid mass gatherings, public transport and close contact with persons, particularly individuals who were considered vulnerable, (which was defined as those eligible for a seasonal influenza vaccine i.e. those over 70 years of age, those with chronic conditions, pregnant women), who were also requested to stay at home in isolation for the foreseeable future and restrict non-essential visits (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19). Although restrictions on mass gatherings were not formally implemented at this time, sports bodies and entertainment venues unilaterally decided to suspend such events anyway. On 20th March 2020 all pubs restaurants and cafés were asked to close for all but takeaway food sales. 

Schools, colleges and nurseries in the UK were asked to close from 23rd March 2020, but cover was provided for children whose parents are keyworkers (to enable functioning of the health and social care services, transport and utilities as well as food supply), children with disabilities (to ensure continuity of care) and those children considered to be vulnerable such as those who are eligible for free school meals. 

From 24th March 2020, non-essential retail outlets were closed (excluding supermarkets and pharmacists etc) and physical distancing became mandatory for everyone with people required to stay at home, except for very limited purposes such as one form of exercise per day, essential work that cannot be done at home and shopping for food or collecting medicines. Gatherings of more than two people were banned in public for a minimum period of three weeks. Relevant authorities, including the police, were granted powers to enforce these measures through fines and dispersing gatherings.

Following the deaths of several bus drivers, the Transport for London is now trialling implementing screens for buses and limiting all front door use on all buses.