UK winter lockdown: What are the new rules for November?

UK winter lockdown, tier
© Luboslav Ivanko

The UK winter lockdown was leaked on Friday night, with a hasty press conference assembled on Saturday – so what are the new rules and why was this introduced so late?

PM Boris Johnson announced a UK winter lockdown on 31 October, which will override the current tiers system that is in place.

The lockdown will mirror the one we had in March – with some key exceptions. Firstly, schools, colleges and universities will remain open. Secondly, businesses will not be legally required to close their offices – just encouraged not to go to their place of work unless it is strictly necessary. For example, builders, NHS staff and those who need access to equipment.

The timeline for this second lockdown

On 21 September, SAGE recommended that the UK undergo an immediate “circuit-breaker” lockdown, to give the UK enough time to stop the transmission of COVID-19 and amp up testing capacity. This advice was released to the public as well as the Government, leading to widespread questions about why this action was not yet on the table. On 7 October, the Scottish Government laid out strong new restrictions and took themselves into a SAGE-recommended lockdown.

Then on 12 October, Chief Medical Officer of England, Chris Whitty suggested that the proposed tier measures would not be enough to contain the virus. On 13 October, Labour began to call for a “circuit-breaker” style lockdown, in the wake of intense negotiations between London and Greater Manchester about economic support packages for cities going into Tier 3.

On 14 October, scientists forewarned that the current rate of infection and hospitalisation is way worse than previously predicted for mid-October. According to Imperial College London data, an estimated 128 people per 10,000 have the virus, compared to 60 per 10,000 on 5 October. That’s over double the amount of infection in less than a month.

On 19 October, Wales announced a “fire-break” lockdown, as the data grew more alarming. Finally, on 31 October, PM Boris Johnson said that he could not responsibly “ignore” the numbers coming out of hospitals, studies and scientists across England. He then announced a UK winter lockdown that excludes children and young people.

What are the new rules for this lockdown?

  • Shielding will not exist the same way as the first lockdown – the highly vulnerable will be asked to be careful, but not required to isolate as thoroughly as in Spring
  • The only reason that people should be leaving home for is their education and work which cannot be done from home
  • People are still allowed to leave for shopping, caring for vulnerable others, volunteering, medical reasons and exercise
  • No-one can meet indoors or in private gardens
  • A person can meet one person from a different household in a public place
  • Takeaways and click-and-collect retail places will stay open, but everything else (restaurants, pubs, cafes, etc) must close
  • Gyms will close
  • Separated couples can still share their children between homes
  • Support bubbles for single-person households can remain intact

How long will the UK winter lockdown last?

According to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the natural end for the lockdown would be 2 December. However, speaking this morning to BBC Radio 4, he could not confirm that this would be definite:

“Our expectation and firm hope, on the basis of everything we know today, is the measures we have put in place for the time they will be in place for, will be sufficient to do the job we need, and we will seek to exit these restrictions back into a tiered approach at the end of the four-week period.”

Speaking to Sky News, Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health Secretary, said:

“The consequence of that delay is we are now on the eve of a longer lockdown, and a more restrictive lockdown than perhaps would have been necessary had we just done that short circuit break earlier.”


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