Can I see my family? All you need to know about the new lockdown rules
- Credit: PA
After almost two months of lockdown, prime minister Boris John has laid out what he described as the “first sketch of a road map for reopening society”.
In a televised statement broadcast on Sunday night, the prime minister announced a new Covid Alert System, which will be largely determined by the reinfection rate (R) and the number of cases.
With alert levels from one to five, the PM said the UK had been in level four but was now in a position to begin moving to level three.
During the speech, he said social distancing rules would still need to be obeyed, with tougher fines for those who break them now in place, and said from this week those who cannot work from home, including those in construction and manufacturing, should be “actively encouraged” to go to work - but should avoid public transport.
But several notable omissions from the speech, including face masks, weddings and whether people can see their families, quickly led to confusion over what the rules mean.
We’ve tried our best to answer some of the questions you may be likely to have about this next stage of lockdown.
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• Are we still in lockdown?
In his speech, the prime minister said the new system would be able to detect local flare-ups, as well as providing a national picture.
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He said: “And though we have made progress in satisfying at least some of the conditions I have given, we have by no means fulfilled all of them.
“And so no, this is not the time simply to end the lockdown this week.
“Instead we are taking the first careful steps to modify our measures.
“And the first step is a change of emphasis that we hope that people will act on this week.”
The government has moved from its previous motto - stay home, protect the NHS, save lives - to a new one, stay alert, control the virus, save lives.
• Does the prime minister’s plan apply to the whole of the UK?
No. Devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have power to make their own decisions on a number of matters, including health, and some have already done so.
Wales announced a slight easing on Friday allowing people to exercise more than once a day, garden centres to reopen with social distancing guidelines and local authorities to start planning on how to safely open libraries and recycling centres.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Sunday that the cap on daily exercise has been scrapped, but she warned that it is not an excuse to meet up in groups at parks or beaches, to sunbathe or have picnics and barbecues.
Northern Ireland’s road map, which is expected to only have “nuanced” changes, will be announced this week.
• What has actually changed?
People who cannot work from home have been actively encouraged to return to work.
And from Wednesday, people will be allowed to take more outdoor exercise - an unlimited amount. The cap on exercising once a day has been removed.
People will now be able to drive to exercise in England, including to parks and beaches, but only with members of their own household.
Discussing changes to the exercise rules, foreign secretary Dominic Raab told BBC Breakfast on Monday morning: “You can drive as far as you want to drive to go and walk in a park or a particular area that you’re fond of as long as you maintain the social distancing.
“But obviously, if you’re going from one part of the UK to another, so if you’re going from England to Wales or from Scotland to Wales and different rules are in place because the devolved administrations take a different approach you need to be very mindful of the regulations that they’ve got in place.”
• Can I sunbathe?
Yes, people will be allowed to sit in the sun in their local parks.
• And can I sit outdoors with other people?
Mr Johnson’s speech said sitting in a park or on the beach could only be done with members of your own household, but Mr Raab told BBC Breakfast: “If you go out of home to the park for exercise, whatever it may be, you can go with members of your own household. If you’re out in the park and you’re two metres apart, we are saying now, and you use some common sense and socially distance, you can meet up with other people... But people must stay alert.”
• So can I see my family?
People are still not allowed to mix households indoors and we remain in lockdown - so the easing of the rules does not permit people to visit their family members at home or in their gardens.
But when asked if someone could meet a family member or person from another household in a park, Mr Raab told the BBC: “Well, you could if there’s two metres apart.”
Asked if someone could meet their mother in the morning and their father in the afternoon, he said: “Outside in the outdoors, staying two metres apart, yes.”
He later went on to suggest that people could meet more than one other person from a different household at the same time, as long as they were in England, in a park or outdoor space and socially distancing.
But this prompted confusion - government officials said on Sunday evening the new rules meant you could meet only one other person from another household outdoors.
It is likely the prime minister will seek the clarify the position in parliament this afternoon, or in the No 10 press conference this evening.
• When I’m outdoors, can I play sports?
Yes, but again this must be limited to doing so only with members of your own household.
Tennis courts and golf clubs could reopen in England from Wednesday, so long as social distancing measures are enforced.
Other permitted activities will include water sports and angling.
Mr Raab suggested on BBC Breakfast that people will not be allowed to play football under the relaxed rules.
He said: “No I don’t think so because you can’t stay two metres apart.
“So, we do want people to play more sport and let me give you one example of something you can do.
“Two people from the same home could go and play tennis, because that’s something where they could stay two metres apart from everyone else.
“What you couldn’t then do, and this is why we say you’ve got to stay alert, you couldn’t then go into the clubhouse and mill around where you will be within two metres of other people.
“So, football would be one of those where I think would be very difficult to stay two metres apart if you’re playing, you know, 11-a-side or even five-a-side.”
• What if I don’t obey social distancing rules?
You could be fined, and the financial penalties will be increased in order to enforce the social distancing rules.
Fines for breaching coronavirus regulations will rise from £60 to £100, while payment of the fine within 14 days will reduce the sum to £50, up from the present £30.
Repeat offenders will see the fine double for each subsequent breach to a maximum of £3,200.
• Can I return to work?
You should continue to work from home where you can, but if that is not possible, you should go to work.
Anyone who cannot work from home, including those in construction and manufacturing, “should be actively encouraged to go to work”, the prime minister has said.
Downing Street said that would apply from Monday, though in interviews on Monday morning Mr Raab said it would come into force from Wednesday.
He said the full list of workers who will be able to return to their jobs will be released today at 2pm.
Mr Johnson said the government has been establishing new guidance for employers to make workplaces “Covid-secure”.
• Can I use public transport?
Mr Johnson advised people to avoid public transport “if at all possible because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited”.
He said public transport operators, just as with workplaces, will be following the “Covid-secure” standards.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said on Saturday that even with England’s public transport network running at full capacity, it could only safely cater for 10pc of the usual passenger load with the two-metre social distancing rule in place.
• What is happening with schools?
Efforts could be made to get primary pupils back into schools, in stages, starting with reception, year one and year six, at the earliest by June 1.
Remaining primary school year groups could be added at later dates.
For secondary school pupils who have exams next year, so years 10 and 12, the aim is to get them “at least some time with their teachers before the holidays”, the prime minister said.
Government officials said the remaining secondary school age pupils in England would not be expected to return to school before the summer holidays.
Mr Johnson promised detailed guidance “shortly” on how to make things work in schools and shops and on transport.
The announcement has been met with trepidation from teaching union representatives locally and nationally, with one saying the government was “acting recklessly” in its approach.
Scott Lyons, district secretary of the National Education Union for Norfolk, said: “The union still thinks the government has made reckless decisions in the past and this announcement shows it is continuing to do so.”
The general secretary of the teachers’ union said the profession has “very serious concerns” about children returning to school on June 1.
Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, said his biggest concern around the new lockdown rules was potentially sending children back to school in June, and whether it would be safe to do so.
“I suspect personally not,” he said. “It’s too early to be certain but there may well be signs that opening schools could have an impact on increasing the risk, but I’m not certain and we need to see what happens in other countries, to see what they get right or wrong.”
• Can I travel abroad? And can friends and relatives visit me from outside the UK?
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised people against all non-essential travel overseas on March 17, and that warning remains in place.
There was no mention of changes to travel abroad in the prime minister’s speech on Sunday evening.
But he said people who visit the UK from abroad will soon be subject to quarantine.
To prevent reinfection from abroad, Mr Johnson said he was “serving notice that it will soon be the time - with transmission significantly lower - to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air”.
No further detail was given but a previous report suggested travellers from Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man will be exempt from the quarantine.
A joint statement from Downing Street after the address said Mr Johnson and French president Emmanuel Macron had agreed quarantine measures would not apply between France and the UK “at this stage” for the “management of our common border”.
• When will shops, pubs and theatres reopen?
A phased reopening of shops could begin at the earliest by June 1, Mr Johnson said.
Subject to conditions and scientific advice “at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places” could be reopened with social distancing measures in place by July at the earliest, he added.
Speaking on Sky News on Monday morning when asked when pubs and restaurants could reopen, Mr Raab said: “I just don’t think we are ready yet, given where we are with the virus.
“There are three steps, there’s the modest changes we are announcing which will take effect from Wednesday.
“There’s the other changes for things like non-essential retail, and people going back to school, particularly primary school, which won’t start until the earliest on June 1 - subject to conditions.
“And then, starting from July 4 at the very earliest, those are the sectors where - they are just inherently more difficult because people are mixing together and it’s difficult to maintain the social distancing - we wouldn’t be able to say, based on the advice we get, and the monitoring we do, that we would start them at least until July 4.”
• What about face masks?
Prior to the prime minister’s speech, there had been speculation over whether he would announce face masks becoming mandatory, particularly on public transport.
But there was no mention of the masks on Sunday.
Several countries, including France, have mandated face masks to control the spread of the virus.
But the guidance from the UK government so far has been that they make little impact.
Speaking to MPs on May 5, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said wearing face masks had a “marginal but positive” impact on the spread of infection and there may be times when it could be “beneficial” for people to do so.
Prof Hunter said research on face masks was limited and had reached varying conclusions, with some suggesting they could have a negative impact on controlling the virus, potentially because people were less likely to follow other social distancing measures.
“It’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said, “but my personal view is that, although the available evidence is very uncertain, if you have to go out and have to use public transport, particularly if you fall into one of the vulnerable groups, then wearing a face mask can be a good thing.”
• Will couples be able to get married?
Though there was no mention of similar ceremonies in the prime minister’s speech, a cabinet minister has indicated there may be a change to rules regarding weddings after couples around the UK were forced to cancel their big day due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Justice secretary Robert Buckland said “watch this space” when asked about the issue on Sunday night following the prime minister’s televised address, which did not mention weddings.
As part of the lockdown imposed in March, all social events were stopped - including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies.
The issue of weddings came up on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour due to a panellist on the show saying she was due to be on her honeymoon.
Asked about the issue, Mr Buckland said: “You’ll be glad to know that we are giving anxious consideration to the issue of marriages.
“We want to help people like you, but there are also some people who are really... They want to get married because things are happening in their life that means they might not be together for a long time, and therefore I’m giving a lot of anxious consideration to the effect of the potential changes here as to what we can do with regard to marriage ceremonies, so watch this space, we’re working on it.”
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