In depth: key questions about the new ‘flexible’ lockdown changes

Widespread confusion over what will and won’t be allowed after restrictions are relaxed this week

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson addresses the nation from Downing Street
(Image credit: Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street)

The government’s lockdown rules are set to change tomorrow, with an easing of restrictions on socialising, outdoor activity and going to work.

Downing Street issued new guidance on Monday about the measures to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, following a televised address by Boris Johnson on Sunday that was criticised for being vague and confusing.

Amid a backlash from unions over a lack of notice for employers, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced on Monday that the introduction of the changes would be pushed back until Wednesday.

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But despite the delay, many key questions about the new rules remain to be answered.

What are the rules for work?

The government says that people who are able to work from home should continue to do so “for the foreseeable future”.

However, in his speech on Sunday, the prime minister said: “We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work.”

People who do need to travel to work are advised to avoid public transport if possible, and instead drive, cycle or walk.

The government has said that ministers are working with public transport providers to bring services up to pre-crisis levels as soon as possible, reports the BBC - but in the meantime, confusion remains about how staff can get to work safely.

How about exercise?

From Wednesday, people in England will be able to spend more time outdoors “for leisure purposes”, including sitting and sunbathing in parks, and may also take “unlimited” outdoor exercise.

Using a tennis or basketball court or a golf course will be permitted with members of the same household, or one other person from outside provided they are two metres apart, reports Sky News.

People in England will also be allowed to take day trips to an outdoor open space in a private vehicle.

But Downing Street officials clarified on Monday that while people may travel to beaches and parks, they may not spend nights or weekends in second homes, The Times reports.

The Welsh and Scottish governments are also lifting the ban on exercising outdoors more than once a day, while Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster is set to outline her lockdown exit plans later today.

Exercising in an indoor sports court, gym or leisure centre, and swimming in a public pool, will remain banned across the UK.

What about seeing family and friends?

People in England will be allowed to meet with one person at a time from outside their household to play sports, sunbathe and even have a picnic, so long as they remain outdoors and keep two metres apart at all times.

Visiting other households in their homes will not be allowed, however, although so-called “social bubbles” of up to ten people may be permitted from 1 June, depending on the findings of research by scientists on the government’s Sage committee.

Despite the easing of restrictions, the government has warned that fines for people caught breaking remaining social distancing rules are to be increased to £100 and will double with each offence up to a maximum £3,200.

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Is it mandatory to wear a face mask?

The government is advising members of the public to wear face coverings in busy public places but has not made it a legal requirement, unlike in many other countries including France and Spain.

The guidance from Downing Street says that “homemade cloth face-coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances” and “protect against inadvertent transmission of the disease to others if you have it asymptomatically”.

But government scientists say wearing face coverings will not made a legal requirement for the time being, because “the evidence for their benefit, we were told, was not strong enough for this to be the case”, reports the BBC’s political correspondent Chris Mason.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and the PM have urged the public not to buy surgical or medical grade masks, which are in short supply for front-line carers, but to instead use scarves, bandanas and DIY face coverings.

Are schools reopening?

The rules on schools will remain the same until next month, with only the children of essential workers such as front-line NHS staff and delivery drivers permitted to attend.

However, children in nurseries, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 are due to return from 1 June, if the UK does not see a reversal in falling infection rates. No. 10 has said that if infections begin to increase again, restrictions will be tightened “possibly at short notice”.

Ministers also say that “if feasible”, all other primary school pupils may return to class by the end of the month - although teaching unions have described the plans as reckless.

In addition, from June, secondary schools and further education colleges will be asked to prepare for face-to-face contact with Year 10 and 12 pupils who have exams next year, as well as continuing to deliver remote classes.

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