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Phase one: first national lockdown

England was in national lockdown between late March and June 2020. Intitally, all non-essential high street businesses were closed and people were ordered to stay home, permitted to leave for essential purposes only. Starting in May 2020, the laws were slowly relaxed. People were permitted to leave home for outdoor recreation from 13 May. On 1 June, the restriction on leaving home was replaced with a requirement to be home overnight, and people were permitted to meet outside with up to six people.

Phase two: minimal lockdown restrictions

Most lockdown restrictions were lifted on 4 July. Hospitality businesses were permitted to reopen. New health and safety guidance on operating businesses “COVID securely” was published. Gatherings up to thirty people were legally permitted, although the Government was still recommending people avoid gatherings larger than six.

Phase three: reimposing restrictions

On 14 September, England’s gathering restriction was tightened and people were once again prohibited from meeting more than six people socially. The new “rule of six” applied in both indoor and outdoor spaces. Eleven days later, pubs, bars and restaurants were told they had to shut between 10pm and 6am.

During this period, a patchwork of local restrictions were imposed across England. On the 14 October, the Government rationalised local restrictions by introducing a “three tier system”. At first most of the country was placed in tier one, under similar restrictions to the previous national rules. As time went on, more of the country was placed in the higher two tiers. 

Phase four: second national lockdown

On 5 November, national restrictions were reintroduced in England. During the second national lockdown non-essential high street businesses were closed and people were prohibited from meeting those not in their support bubbles. People could leave home to meet one person from outside their support bubble (outdoors only).

Phase five: reintroducing a tier system

On 2 December, the tier system was reintroduced (with modifications). Restrictions on hospitality businesses were stricter and most locations were initially placed in tiers two and three. On 19 December, the Prime Minister announced that a new ‘tier four’ would be introduced following concerns about a rising number of coronavirus cases attributed to a new variant of the virus. The tier four rules were similar to those imposed during the second national lockdown. On 30 December, after the first tiering review under the new four tier system, around 75% of the country was placed under tier four restrictions.

Phase six: third national lockdown

Following concerns that the four-tier system was not containing the spread of the new variant of the virus, national restrictions were reintroduced for a third time on 6 January. The rules during the third lockdown were more like the rules in the first lockdown. People were once again told to “stay home”. Unlike during the second lockdown, leaving home for outdoor recreation was again banned. However, people could still form support bubbles (if eligible) and more gatherings were exempted from the gatherings ban (for example, religious services and some small weddings were permitted). 

Phase seven: the steps out of lockdown

On 8 March 2021, England began a phased exit out of lockdown. This consists of a four-step plan, forming part of the Government’s broader roadmap intended to “cautiously but irreversibly” ease lockdown restrictions. Instead of a return to the tier system, the Government confirmed that it planned to lift restrictions in all areas at the same time as the level of infection was “broadly similar” across England.

England moved to step two restrictions on the 12 April, which has seen the reopening of outdoor attractions and settings. Prior to this, as part of step one, children returned to schools and restrictions on gatherings were relaxed, with the rule of six reinstated (in outdoor settings only). Step three will be reached “no earlier than 17 May”.


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