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UK coronavirus lockdown: the new rules, and what they mean for daily life

Boris Johnson has placed the UK on a police-enforced lockdown with drastic new measures in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak.

The Prime Minister ordered people only to leave their homes under a list of “very limited purposes”, banned public gatherings of more than two people and ordered the closure of non-essential shops.

Every citizen must comply with these new measures and the relevant authorities, including the police, will be given the powers to enforce them through fines and dispersing gatherings.

These measures are effective immediately. The Government will look again at these measures after three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows this is possible.

Mr Johnson has said you will only be able to leave your house for one of four reasons:

  1. Shopping for necessities
  2. Once a day for exercise
  3. Medical need or providing care
  4. Travelling to or from work (if you can’t work from home)

All non-essential shops are closing, excluded are food shops, pharmacies, corner shops, hardware stores, petrol stations, pet shops, post offices, banks, newsagents and shops inside hospitals.

Parks will stay open, but gyms including outdoor gyms, play-parks and kiosks will close. As will all places of worship except for funerals.

All gatherings of more than two people are banned except for members of your own family. These measures are in place for three weeks starting immediately.

Police will have power to issue on the spot fines of £60 for meeting without good reason. The fine can be halved to £30 if paid swiftly and repeat offenders will be hit by a doubling of the fine each time.

Read the Prime Minister’s speech in full below.

Where a member of a household has displayed symptoms (see the breakdown below), the Prime Minister said all residents should self-isolate for 14 days. 

In the first instance, police officers are to “persuade, cajole, negotiate and advise” the public to follow lockdown restrictions. But those who do not comply face stricter punishment.

From Thursday, new laws gave police the power to “remove” a person to their home and fine people caught outside their homes in groups of more than two.

The regulations, laid before Parliament, say police can “use reasonable force, if necessary, in the exercise” of this power. Officers will also have the power to “direct” parents or carers to ensure their children are taken home.

People who refuse will face a fixed penalty of £60 if they refuse to go home or disperse, reduced to £30 if they pay it within 14 days.

If an individual continues to refuse to comply, they will be acting unlawfully, and the police may arrest them “where deemed proportionate and necessary”.

Repeat offenders will be hit by a doubling of the fine each time, to £120 for a second offence and £240 for a third, up to a maximum of £960.

Failure to pay will be a criminal offence and could lead to prosecution by magistrates with powers to wield unlimited fines.

Takeaway and delivery services may remain open and operational and online retail is still open and encouraged. Postal and delivery service will run as normal.

Retail and public premises remaining open must:

  1. Ensure a distance of two meters between customers and shop assistants
  2. Let people enter the shop only in small groups, to ensure that spaces are not crowded
  3. Queue control is required outside of shops and other essential premises that remain open.

The Government has ordered all of the businesses in the table below to close, unless there are exceptions, which are all listed. 

There is some uncertainty about businesses not listed, such as building sites. 

The emergency piece of legislation is wide-ranging, and you can read it in its entirety below, but here are the key points: 

  1. Enhanced powers could last until 2022
  2. Power to detain people and test them for coronavirus, force them to isolate if they test positive, and fine them £1,000 if they refuse
  3. Require supermarkets to give the Government information on whether there will be disruptions to their supply chains
  4. Allow employers to claim for the cost of statutory sick pay from the Government where an employee has coronavirus 
  5. Give local authorities sweeping powers to order people such as crematorium managers to dispose of dead bodies in the event that death management becomes a problem
  6. Allow Government to close down any shop, bar, restaurant or club and stop people from entering them

Read more: what is in the Coronavirus Bill?

While the Government said last week that all schools in the UK have closed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not quite as straightforward as that. 

From Friday 20 March, schools and nurseries will be closed “until further notice”, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

But in order for key workers to get to work, schools had to remain open in order for their children to be cared for.

The Government published a list of “key workers” in the early hours of Friday whose children will continue to be cared for at school amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But there has been chaos in schools with beauticians and museum staff arriving claiming to be “key workers” while firefighters and microbiologists were turned away.

The Prime Minister said that exams would not go ahead in May and June, meaning GCSEs, A-levels and SATs are on hold, but the aim is for children to get their results in the summer possibly using their predicted grades.

Supermarkets up and down the country have seen scenes of apocalyptic panic buying (see video below).

Britons have been told not to panic buy and shop “as they would normally shop”.

The Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “I understand the rationale [of panic buying], but I think for the vast majority of people – they are being sensible. As shelves get re-stocked, I think they will take the rational step and shop as they would normally shop.”

But, people were ignoring the advice as queues snaked around supermarket car parks, so supermarkets have introduced rationing on grocery products. 

The hysteria has prompted some chains to introduce elderly and vulnerable-only shopping slots.

Shoppers will also be limited to a maximum of three of any grocery product and a maximum of two on the most popular items such as toilet roll, soap and UHT milk.

The Government has made assurances that shops’ supplies will remain fully stocked and under the new emergency Coronavirus Bill, supermarkets would be forced to tell ministers about any supply chain issues.

If people must leave their homes to purchase food, they should limit social contact with other people, the Government said. And some chains like Waitrose have introduced a maximum number of people allowed inside at any given time.

The Prime Minister has closed bars, clubs, restaurants and theatres.

Areas of close social contact such as pubs and clubs are high-risk areas for transmission of the virus. 

Ministers will be able to “prohibit or restrict events and gatherings, and to close premises, if the public health situation deems it necessary” the notes to the Bill say.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has placed quite a hefty emphasis on limiting smaller gatherings to counter the spread of the virus.

Restaurants also fall into this category and a number of chains – including McDonald’s, Costa Coffee and Nando’s – who had been offering a take-away only service closed their doors indefinitely ahead of the Prime Minister’s announcement.

Dozens of stations on the London Underground network have been closed following the outbreak of Covid-19.

Transport for London says the plans were designed to allow critical workers to make essential journeys and 40 stations which do not interchange with other lines will remain closed on the Tube network.

Here is the full list of the closures: 

Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, has previously hinted railway services could be axed because there was no point running “ghost trains”.

Buses in the capital will be reduced and people are being urged “not to use public transport for anything other than essential journeys” and the Waterloo and City line and Night Tube services will not run from Friday.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “I’m urging Londoners to only use public transport for essential journeys. Everyone should follow this and the other advice to help keep themselves and each other safe.”

But this advice was not being adhered to, as the Tube, buses and trains were still packed on the first morning of the lockdown.  

TfL said it would also be gradually reducing the frequency of services across the network, “to provide a service for critical workers to get to where they need to – ensuring that remaining services are not overcrowded”.

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the Government will underwrite the entire nation’s wage bill. Anyone who cannot work because of the coronavirus pandemic will be paid 80 per cent of their salary by the Government, capped at £2,500 per month, under an unlimited rescue package “unprecedented in the history of the British state”.

Mr Sunak also announced four major financial pledges. 

They are: 

  1. Government-backed loans worth £330billion – equivalent to 15 percent of GDP – will be made available to support businesses

  2. Extending the business rates holiday to all businesses in the hospitality sector and funding grants of up to £25,000 for smaller businesses

  3. Three-month mortgage holiday, meaning those affected by coronavirus will not pay a penny towards their mortgage

  4. No business rates for 12 months

Government-backed loans worth £330billion – equivalent to 15 percent of GDP – will be made available to support businesses

Extending the business rates holiday to all businesses in the hospitality sector and funding grants of up to £25,000 for smaller businesses

Three-month mortgage holiday, meaning those affected by coronavirus will not pay a penny towards their mortgage

On Tuesday, Mar 17, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said British citizens were advised against non-essential foreign travel for 30 days.

That refers to anywhere outside the UK.

In a Commons statement, he told MPs: “Based on the fast-changing international circumstances today I am announcing changes to FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) travel advice.

“UK travellers abroad now face widespread international border restrictions and lockdowns in various countries.

“The FCO will always consider the safety and the security of British nationals so with immediate effect I’ve taken the decision to advise British nationals against non-essential travel globally for an initial period of 30 days and of course subject to ongoing review.”

Mass gatherings are banned.

A mass gathering in the UK is considered to be a meeting of more than two people – unless they are from the same household.

This means that going to a family member’s home for a Sunday roast is now banned.

Big events such as elite sport and concerts have long been abandoned.  

The Premier League and Premiership Rugby have both been postponed for the foreseeable future. You can get all the latest updates on sports fixtures here.

Some bands have have cancelled tours, and with festival season not too far away, there is uncertainty about how crowds will gather en masse in the coming months. 

Victorious Festival in Portsmouth remains scheduled to go ahead in August, but Glastonbury has had to postpone its 50th anniversary festival.

The UK has decided to take a stronger stance on labelling a “mass gathering”. In France and Italy, gatherings of more than 1,000 were legally outlawed.

Mr Johnson said police officers have been given powers to disperse mass gatherings and issue on-the-spot fines, but there was some confusion with police chiefs saying they hadn’t been made aware of any new powers.

People classed as vulnerable have been told to drastically change the way they live their lives by “social distancing”. The Government is strongly advising them to “significantly limit your face-to-face interaction with friends and family if possible”.

Those who fall into this category are: 

  1. People aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
  2. People under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below
  3. Those who are pregnant

Underlying health issues can be largely defined by anyone who is instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds, according to the Department of Health.

These conditions are set out in the box below.

    Pregnant women are the most recent group to be added to the list, although the Government has stressed this is purely a precautionary measure as experts are “early in our understanding of this virus”.

    Although the limited evidence suggested there were no complications in pregnancy, for many infectious diseases “there is a small but appreciable additional risk” and as this was a new virus there was no evidence for people in early stages of pregnancy.

    “Infections and pregnancy are not a good combination in general and that is why we have taken the very precautionary measure while we try and find out more,” the Government’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said, adding that he would rather be overly cautious at this stage and admit it was overkill at a later date than underplay it and get it wrong.

    Those considered extremely vulnerable have been told to shield themselves from society for 12 weeks. Around 1.5million people were written to to inform them they are part of this group and should not leave their homes until at least Monday, June 15.

    Social distancing is staying two metres away from anybody you do not live with. 

    The Government has set out measures you can take to reduce the social interaction between people. This will help reduce the transmission of coronavirus.

    They are:

    1. Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus
    2. Avoid non-essential use of public transport when possible
    3. Work from home, where possible
    4. Avoid large and small gatherings in public spaces, noting that pubs, restaurants, leisure centres and similar venues are currently shut as infections spread easily in closed spaces where people gather together
    5. Avoid gatherings with friends and family. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media
    6. Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services

    Everyone should be trying to follow these measures as much as is pragmatic, the Government said, and the advice is likely to be in place for some weeks.

    Anybody with coronavirus symptoms – a new, persistent cough or a fever – should self-isolate.

    Those living alone should do so for seven days, but those living with others should self-isolate as a household for 14 days. 

    Where possible – this should mean not leaving the home at all, and getting groceries delivered to the property.

    Mr Johnson has said “unnecessary” visits to friends and relatives in care homes should cease.

    The Prime Minister said: “You can take it from what we have just said about avoiding all unnecessary contact for those particular groups – the really strong advice that we are giving to people to avoid unnecessary contact with the over-70s, those with particular health conditions – absolutely, we don’t want to see people unnecessarily visiting care homes.”

    Government policy will change in the next week to mandate 12 weeks’ self-isolation for the elderly and vulnerable.

    There are no Government-enforced closures, but many universities have taken it upon themselves to radically change their day-to-day running

    Oxford and Cambridge sent their students home, while many others, such as the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), announced an end to face-to-face lessons. Until the end of the academic year, all classes, exams and assessments will take place online.

    Durham University has also cancelled all classroom-based lessons next week, along with all foreign field trips.

    Students at King’s College London were told that that most “traditional exams” will not go ahead and alternative assessment formats and modes will be used instead. Law students were told they would be doing “take home” exams.

    Coventry University said that graduation ceremonies held between March and April will be postponed due to “ongoing uncertainty” created by the coronavirus outbreak. Certificates will be posted to students’ home addresses instead.  

    Meanwhile, some students have threatened to take matters into their own hands amid inaction in the face of the spread of the virus, such as a group of undergraduates at Warwick University’s business school, who called for a boycott of a series of exams.

    Criminal trials are to be put on hold as part of the ongoing efforts to delay the spread of coronavirus.

    In a statement, it was announced that the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett – the most senior judge in England and Wales – has decided no new trial should start in any Crown Court unless it is expected to last for three days or fewer.

    As a result, cases longer than three days that were due to start before the end of April will be postponed.

    The announcement came after pressure mounted on the Government to make clear its strategy for courts, amid growing concerns about the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on court business.

    The statement said the impact of the public health emergency on the operation of the courts has been under “constant review”, and that criminal trials pose “particular problems in a fast-moving situation” because of the involvement of many participants including the judge, jurors, defendants, lawyers, witnesses and court staff.

    As with schools, all have shut in the week ending Friday 20 March.

    Although there might be a longer wait for a slot, supermarket deliveries are going ahead as usual. 

    Companies such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats have introduced a no-contact policy, which means drivers drop the food off on doorsteps instead of handing it to the customer. 

    For the Royal Mail, it’s business as usual.

    Libraries have all been forced to close.

    All gyms – indoor and outdoor – will be closed until further notice.

    All cinemas and theatres are now closed.

    The virus has the potential to cause serious damage to the industry.

    The latest James Bond film, No Time To Die, has been pushed back to November, while many upcoming releases, including A Quiet Place 2, The Secret Garden and Disney’s Mulan, have been postponed indefinitely.

    The move comes after theatres in the West End and around the UK closed before the decision was made for them.

    The Society Of London Theatre – which represents hundreds of theatres in the capital including the National Theatre, London Palladium and London Coliseum – and UK Theatre said the decision was “not taken lightly”.

    The Royal Shakespeare Company also announced its three theatres will close following the Government’s advice.

    All hotels must now close their doors and offer rooms to only the following:

    1. Where people live in these as interim abodes whilst their primary residence is unavailable they may continue to do so
    2. Key workers can continue to stay in hotels or similar where required

    Prisons in England and Wales are to go into lockdown with restrictions on inmates movements and a ban on all visits by family and friends to combat the coronavirus.

    The new rules mean inmates will be confirmed to cells for 23 hours a day and only allowed out to shower, use pay phones and to exercise.

    Any movements such as exercise will require prisoners to abide by the two metre space rule required by the Government to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection. Prison staff will communicate with prisoners via notes under cell doors.

    The moves follow representations from Prison Officers’ Association (POA) that visitors and prisoners were still mixing and inmates were exercising in groups.  

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