Friday (26 March) will mark one year since England was legally put under lockdown. Although the Prime Minister asked people to stay home on 23 March 2020, it was three days later that the law was bought into force.
Lockdown has dominated our lives for the past year and the phrase has crept into everyday language.
The Government makes ‘coronavirus restrictions regulations’ which are laws that place a variety of restrictions on people’s lives. These include requiring people to self-isolate when they test positive for the virus, quarantine when they arrive in England from abroad and wear a face covering in public spaces. Some might consider all these rules part of the ‘lockdown’.
Here we use the term ‘lockdown law’ to describe the regulations that restrict movement, gatherings and high street businesses.
This Insight explains how the law underpinning England’s coronavirus lockdowns has been extended, amended and enforced over the year.
During the first lockdown, the Government had to review the “need for the restrictions” every three weeks. It used these formal review points to announce whether lockdown would be extended or amended. By the end of the first lockdown (in early July) the Government stopped tying major lockdown announcements to these reviews.
The Government is still legally required to review the need for coronavirus restrictions. Formal reviews under the current lockdown law must take place every month. The Government’s road map out of this lockdown plans for rules to be relaxed every five weeks (if safe to do so). If all goes well, the final lockdown restrictions will be lifted on 21 June. On 22 March the Government announced new lockdown regulations to manage this process, which will come into force on 29 March. They will expire on 30 June unless revoked, replaced or amended before.
Amending lockdown laws
The regulations for coronavirus restrictions are amended frequently. Amendments have relaxed or tightened the rules, changed the penalties for breaking them and affected how the law is drafted.
Some changes have been so fundamental that the law has been entirely replaced. As the table below shows, England’s ‘lockdown law’ has been replaced five times and, as mentioned, will be replaced again on Monday 29 March.
English national lockdown laws since March 2020
|What did it do?
|Dates in force
|Number of regulations that made amendments1
|The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020
|Regulations for the first lockdown. Slowly amended as lockdown
was eased. Replaced when the first lockdown ended.
|26 March 2020 to 4 July 2020
|The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020
|In place while minimal restrictions were in force during summer 2020. During this period a patchwork of local restrictions were imposed by separate regulations. Replaced when the first tier-system was introduced.
|4 July 2020 to 14 October 2020
|The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Local COVID-19 Alert Level) (Medium) (England) Regulations 2020
|Set out the tier one rules during England’s first tier-system. Replaced when England entered the second lockdown.
|14 October 2020 to 5 November 2020
|The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020
|Regulations for the second lockdown. Replaced when the second tier-system was introduced.
|5 November 2020 to 2 December 2020
|The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020
|Regulations for the second tier-system. These were transformed into the third national lockdown regulations. At present all of England is technically in “tier four” under these regulations.
|2 December 2020 to present
|The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021
|Regulations for the relaxation of lockdown three in line with the Government’s road map out of lockdown.
|Not yet in force. Comes into force 29 March.
|Coronavirus restrictions used in England
|People are prohibited from leaving home without a “reasonable excuse”.
|People are prohibited from staying away from home overnight without a “reasonable excuse”.
|International travel ban
|People are prohibited from leaving the United Kingdom without a “reasonable excuse”. Comes into force 29 March 2021.
|Social gatherings ban
|Gatherings of more than two people are prohibited apart from a limited number of exempted purposes.
|Rule of six
|Gatherings of more than six people are prohibited unless they are for an exempted purpose.
|People are prohibited from meeting those not in their household/support bubble. Sometimes these rules specify places (usually indoor spaces) where people cannot meet. This rule has only been used locally in England.
|Gatherings of more than thirty people are prohibited.
|High-street businesses must close but can operate a takeway/delivery service.
|Pubs, bars and resturants must close at a specific time.
Local coronavirus restrictions
In summer 2020 the Government introduced local lockdowns in response to data on the spread of Covid-19 in specific areas.
By October 2020 there was a complicated patchwork of local lockdowns across England. The Government created a “tier system” to manage these local restrictions. It favoured the tier approach throughout late 2020 (even during the second national lockdown).
The Government now says lockdown tiers won’t be reinstated but hasn’t ruled out the possibility of local restrictions to contain new variants . The use of local restrictions in summer 2020 meant some parts of England were barely out of the first lockdown before new restrictions were reintroduced.
Enforcing England’s lockdowns
Compliance with lockdown measures has generally been high. Data from the latest Office for National Statistics survey indicates just 8% of adults left home to meet up with someone in public spaces in early March 2021.
The police say a “small number” of people flout the rules. They have powers to issue Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs), a type of on-the-spot fine, to those who break lockdown rules. As of 18 February 2021, the equivalent of 120 FPNs for every 100,000 people living in England have been issued.
The police have issued more FPNs during national lockdowns, when restrictions have been stricter. During the third national lockdown the police stepped up enforcement activity with the support of the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. The Home Secretary argued that high coronavirus case numbers during the winter required “strong enforcement” of lockdown rules.
- Coronavirus: A history of English lockdown laws, House of Commons Library.
- Coronavirus: the lockdown laws, House of Commons Library.
About the authors: Jennifer Brown, Sarah Barber, Carl Baker and Daniel Ferguson are researchers at the House of Commons Library covering the lockdown laws.