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The UK has hundreds of laws made in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Many of these laws could be described as ‘lockdown laws’. In this briefing the term ‘lockdown law’ refers to coronavirus restrictions relating to movement, gatherings and high street business operations.

What rules currently apply across the UK?

National lockdowns are currently in place in all four UK nations. Official guidance on the restrictions applicable can be found on government websites:

Summary of main lockdown laws in the UK


Staying home

People must stay home. They are only permitted to leave home with a “reasonable excuse”.

The term “reasonable excuse” is not defined in legislation but there are non-exhaustive lists of examples of reasonable excuses. The lists are different in each nation but obtaining necessities, escaping harm, exercising and accessing medical care are listed as reasonable excuses across the UK.


Social gatherings ban

People are almost entirely prohibited from gathering socially with those who do not live in their support bubble.

The rules for forming a support bubble/extended household differs in the UK nations. But those who live alone or in a single parent household can “bubble” with one other household everywhere.

The list of gatherings that are permitted differs across the UK. Work that is reasonably necessary and providing emergency assistance are allowed everywhere.


High-street business closures

Most non-essential high street businesses must close but they are permitted to operate online/via delivery. The list of businesses that must close differs slightly in the UK nations but “close contact businesses” and hospitality business are closed everywhere.

Types of lockdown law

Lockdown laws have imposed many different coronavirus restrictions. Different rules apply in each UK nation. Specific restrictions for certain local areas were also common.

Lockdown laws can be categorised into three types of restriction: gatherings, movement and business restrictions, within which an array of specific restrictions might be imposed.

Gatherings restrictions

  • An almost total ban on social gatherings has been imposed during full national lockdowns.
  • Household mixing rules have been imposed to prevent people who do not live together from meeting. Sometimes these rules specify places (usually indoor spaces) where people cannot meet.
  • Versions of a rule of six have prevented gatherings larger than six people. Some exemptions to these rules allowed larger gatherings for specific purposes.
  • Various other rules have been in place which allow only for small gatherings. Sometimes the size of the gathering permitted is defined by a specific number of households.
  • Specific rules have been made to further discourage large gatherings and illegal raves. Those enforcing lockdown laws can issue higher penalties to those who break these rules. During summer 2020 England’s national gatherings restriction was a “large gathering rule”. The penalty for breaking this rule was the same as the “small gatherings rule” it replaced.

Movement restrictions

  • During full national lockdowns leaving home without a “reasonable excuse” is prohibited.
  • Laws have prevented people from travelling outside their local area.
  • Laws have also prohibited travel between specified areas (often to/from areas with different restrictions).

Business restrictions

  • Certain businesses have been required to close during the pandemic.
  • Hospitality businesses have also been required to operate restricted opening hours.
  • Some rules restrict the sale of alcohol.

Other types of coronavirus laws

Other laws have been used to impose restrictions designed to slow and contain the spread of the coronavirus. These include laws which:

  • require people to wear face coverings in certain public spaces.
  • require those who have tested positive for the coronavirus and their close contacts to self-isolate.
  • require those arriving in the UK from specified countries to quarantine.

An overview of the main pieces of coronavirus legislation in the UK has been compiled on   

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