Boris Johnson today outlined his “roadmap” out of national lockdown. The first changes we’ll see are the reopening of schools for all age groups from 8 March, as well as two people being allowed to socialise outdoors.
Assuming that four “tests” are met, around vaccination rollout, vaccine efficacy, infection rates and the presence of any new variants of Covid-19, these initial relaxation measures will be followed by further easing.
From 29 March, outdoor gatherings of up to six people or two households will be allowed. Crucially, there will be change in the messaging: from “Stay at Home” to “Stay Local”.
But what does ‘Stay Local’ mean? Here are the key questions and answers.
What are the current rules?
Severe restrictions on travel and activities have been in place across the UK since we went into a third national lockdown in early January. While the four nations of the UK have slight differences in timing and rules, the basic principles are very similar.
The “Stay at Home” rule bans people from leaving or being outside the house “except where necessary”. Reasonable excuses to be away from home currently include shopping for basic necessities, going to work if you can’t work from home, volunteering, exercising, and attending childcare or education.
If you are working or have caring duties, you may travel as far as you need to. But for everyone else, travelling anywhere beyond your local area is only permitted for a few specific reasons, including shopping for essentials or seeking medical treatment.
A “local area” is defined as “the village, town, or part of the city where you live”.
When does ‘stay local’ come into effect?
The new rule will come into effect on 29 March, assuming the government is satisfied with the progress of the vaccination rollout, the efficacy of vaccines and the number of new coronavirus cases.
The presence of any new variants of Covid-19 will also be a factor under consideration as this date draws nearer.
What could it mean?
While people in England will legally not be required to stay at home from 29 March, they are being asked to minimise all travel wherever possible.
The definition of “local” will probably be the same as that used to define “local” under current rules. So you will be able to travel around your village, town or neighbourhood, but no further unless you have a good reason as outlined above.
It’s expected that driving long distances will be discouraged, however; and there will be no relaxation around the rules on overnight stays until at least 12 April, the earliest date at which self-catering accommodation could reopen.
When can we expect the rules to relax further?
If all goes to plan with the vaccine rollout and cases of Covid-19 continue to fall, the next phase of reopening includes trips to self-contained catering accommodation, which will be able to resume no earlier than 12 April for individuals or one household.
Pubs and restaurants will reopen around the same time, initially for outdoor dining or drinking, with groups no larger than six people or two households. Customers will be allowed to drink alcohol without ordering food, but must be seated.
The reopening of hotels and B&Bs will come in the phase following that, no earlier than 17 May. The rule of six/two household socialising rule is due to be scrapped around the same time, opening the door for wide-scale socialising and domestic holiday travel with friends and family.