Prime Minister Boris Johnson has revealed the government’s ‘roadmap’ to end lockdown restrictions in England.
The four-stage plan starts with schools and social contact resuming in March, with non-essential retail, hospitality and holidays set to resume incrementally throughout the year.
Routes out of lockdown are yet to be outlined for the rest of the UK, but the Prime Minister says he’s working closely with devolved administrations.
Despite this announcement, the current lockdown rules remain the same until schools return on 8 March, with the ‘stay at home’ law remaining until 29 March.
In Holyrood, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also announced the restrictions will begin to be eased in Scotland, with the nation returning to its five-level tiered system in April.
Here, Which? explains the current rules in more detail, and reveals which types of shops can and can’t open where you are.
Boris Johnson’s ‘roadmap’
To bring England out of its third national lockdown, the Prime Minister is intending to lift restrictions in four phases.
He has said that he wants these phases to be ‘irreversible’ and that the dates he’s given for them are intended to be the earliest possible dates they could begin if the latest coronavirus data allows.
Here’s a brief overview of the stages:
Step one (part one)
When? 8 March
What? Schools and colleges reopen for all years; outdoor recreation allowed with one person from another household, but ‘stay at home’ law still in place.
Step one (part two)
When? 29 March
What? ‘Stay at home’ law lifted; outdoor socialising allowed for six people or two households; outdoor sports to resume.
When? 12 April at the earliest
What? Non-essential retail and personal care (including hairdressers) reopen; gyms reopen; outdoor hospitality and attractions reopen; overnight stays and UK self-catered holidays allowed for one household.
When? 17 May at the earliest
What? ‘Rule of six’ lifted for outdoor socialising; indoor socialising and hospitality allowed with ‘rule of six’ or two-household rule; weddings allowed with up to 30 people; some outdoor events allowed.
When? 21 June at the earliest
What? All limits on social contact removed, indoors and outdoors; nightclubs to reopen.
For more detail on exactly what each step means, see the government’s website.
Scotland’s COVID-19 restrictions
All of mainland Scotland and the Isle of Skye is also under national lockdown measures at the moment, with just a few islands still in Level 3.
Everyone in locked-down areas has been told to stay at home other than for essential purposes, most businesses are closed, although schools have begun reopening.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressed the Scottish parliament on 23 February, revealing that she plans to end the ‘stay at home’ restriction on 5 April if the data allows, with the five-level tiered system returning to mainland Scotland no earlier than three weeks later on 26 April.
There may be changes to what exactly is allowed at each level, but under the current definitions areas under Levels 0 to 3 would be able to reopen non-essential shops and hospitality with restrictions, and allow some social mixing between households.
In the meantime, from 15 March four people from two households will be allowed to meet outdoors.
The Scottish government’s full lockdown guidelines can be found here.
England’s current lockdown rules
England is currently under its third national lockdown, with measures very close to those that were in place under the first lockdown in March 2020.
This means that you can only leave your home for ‘essential’ reasons, such as shopping for food, working if you absolutely can’t do so from home or attending medical appointments. Outdoor exercise is still permitted, but only once per day, and no socialising with other households is allowed.
Primary and secondary schools will be closed until 8 March, only staying open for key workers’ children and those deemed vulnerable.
Nurseries and early years childcare are allowed to remain open.
You can find the full details of the rules on the government’s national lockdown page.
What are the rules in Wales?
Since 28 December, all of Wales has been at Level 4, which equates to a full lockdown with a ‘stay at home’ instruction to boot. This means that you should only leave your house for essential reasons such as shopping for food and exercise.
Non-essential retail, hospitality, entertainment venues and leisure facilities must close, and you’re not allowed to meet anyone from outside your household outdoors or indoors.
On 19 February, the Welsh government confirmed that its lockdown will continue for a further three weeks, though some rules were relaxed.
Children aged three to seven have already begun a phased return to schools, while four people from two households are now allowed to meet outside for socially distanced exercise (but not in gardens).
Northern Ireland’s current lockdown explained
Since 26 December, Northern Ireland has been under a strict lockdown, with people asked to stay at home other than for essential purposes.
Non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure and close-contact service businesses are closed. This includes homeware stores and garden centres, despite having been deemed ‘essential’ in previous lockdowns.
Pupils are set to return to school in a phased way starting in March, but the lockdown was recently confirmed to stay in place until at least 1 April.
You can find Northern Ireland’s full lockdown rules here.
What counts as ‘essential’ retail?
Throughout the UK, only those retailers classed as ‘essential’ are currently allowed to open – but what exactly does this mean?
These types of shops are classed as essential in every UK nation:
- Agricultural supplies shops and livestock markets
- Banks and building societies
- Bicycle shops
- Building supply merchants and tool suppliers (sometimes listed as hardware stores)
- Car parks
- Car repair and MOT services
- Doctors’ surgeries, dentists, opticians, chiropractors, and other medical and mental health services
- Food and drink retailers, including supermarkets, off-licences, convenience stores, corner shops and newsagents
- Funeral directors
- Laundrettes and dry cleaners
- Outdoor markets
- Petrol stations
- Post Offices
- Public toilets
- Storage facilities and drop off points
- Vehicle-hire businesses
- Vets surgeries
- Garden centres
In Wales, supermarkets must cordon off sections exclusively selling non-essential items, meaning products you wouldn’t find at one of the places listed above.
Scotland’s non-essential click-and-collect ban still allows the service from garden centres, and shops selling books, clothing and electricals, even though these types of stores can’t offer in-person browsing.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said that the furlough scheme, which was previously set to end on 31 October, will continue until April 2021 to provide support for businesses that have to close.
- Find out more: coronavirus job retention scheme extended into 2021
What about travel and holidays?
Under the current lockdown rules, you can only travel for essential reasons – and these don’t include a holiday.
Even where people are legally allowed to travel, the government is asking them to think carefully about the journeys they take and the people they meet.
On top of this, it’s currently difficult to leave and return to the UK.
Many countries have banned incoming travellers from the UK due to the new variant present here.
And the UK has now closed all its ‘travel corridors’, meaning you need a negative COVID-19 test to be allowed into the UK and have to quarantine when you return home.
All of this means that you should be offered a refund if your flight is cancelled or hotel is closed. But if your flight goes ahead, you may not be able to get your money back.
While many insurers now offer ‘coronavirus cancellation cover’, this often only covers you if you or someone you’re travelling with catches the virus. Only a handful of insurers will cover you for cancelling due to a new lockdown.
- Find out more: travel corridor removal: what it means for you
This story was first published on 23 June 2020 and has been updated. The latest update was on 23 February 2021 to reflect the latest lockdown news.