Whitehall disagreement over lockdown length among differences for second version
Mixed messages from the Government over the duration of England’s new lockdown beginning on Thursday are among the differences with the UK’s nationwide restrictions introduced in March.
Boris Johnson announced the latest lockdown will continue for four weeks but he has seemingly been contradicted by Cabinet minister Michael Gove, who said the measure could be extended beyond December 2 if coronavirus infection rates do not significantly fall.
His warning on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday was echoed by former chief scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport, who said there was “obviously a possibility” the restrictions could last longer than the first lockdown.
Members of the public will recall the March measures had an expected timeframe of at least three weeks before they were extended for almost four more weeks until a slight easing on May 10.
One of the biggest changes, no doubt welcomed by millions of parents, is that schools will stay open during the envisaged month-long lockdown. In March, they were closed to all pupils except children of key workers.
Nurseries, colleges and universities will also stay open, but university students have been told not to return home during term time, although at this stage they will be able to leave campus for the Christmas holiday.
After-school provisions and sports clubs will be suspended, but playgrounds and parks will remain open.
People will be allowed to leave their home for outdoor exercise as many times per day as they want, contrasting with the contentious and difficult to police “once a day” rule of the spring.
Such activity can be undertaken with other members of your household or one person from another household (a “one plus one” rule) that was not in place earlier this year.
Health minister Nadine Dorries has also said children under school age who are with their parents will not count towards the limit on two people meeting outside.
People will still be able to allowed to go out for medical needs, to care for the vulnerable, or shopping for necessities, but these journeys should be as seldom as possible.
The Government has also provided guidance for the housing market, with Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick tweeting that members of the public will still be able to move.
“Removal firms and estate agents can operate, construction sites can and should continue, tradespeople will be able to enter homes. But all must follow the Covid safety guidance,” he added,
Places of worship will again be closed to most forms of communal gathering, but they can remain open for private prayer, unlike in the first phase of lockdown.
Funerals will be limited to a maximum of 30 people, although it is advised that only close family members attend. Headstone settings and the scattering of ashes should have no more than 15 people.
Weddings, civil partnership ceremonies are only allowed in “exceptional circumstances”.
Formal shielding for the vulnerable will not be reintroduced, unlike in spring when at-risk people were told not to leave home for any reason and extra support was on offer including food parcel deliveries.
However, the age definition of “clinically vulnerable” has been lowered to 60, down from 70 in the first lockdown.
One major difference likely to be widely welcomed is that football and a range of other professional sports will be allowed to continue, unlike earlier in the year, albeit still without crowds in stadiums.
The Premier League season was suspended on March 13 and did not resume until June 17, with games broadcast originally free-to-air but now mainly pay-for-view or via subscription packages.
The other major change is the rules were broadly the same across all of the UK in March, but the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland now have their own measures in place and have yet to indicate if they will match the new English provisions.
Wales is part way through a 17-day “firebreak” lockdown which started on October 23 and will last until November 9.
The majority of Scots will be placed into Level 3 of a new five-tier system from Monday, with the rest of the country in either Levels 1 or 2. This follows restrictions across the central belt of Scotland that saw pubs closed in October and other restrictions on alcohol sales.
In Northern Ireland, pubs and restaurants were closed for four weeks starting on October 16 with the exception of takeaways and deliveries. Schools were closed for two weeks.