Under the Prime Minister’s indicative timeframe, the final lockdown restrictions should be lifted on or after Monday, 21 June.
On this date, all legal limits on social contact may be lifted, all business venues may be allowed to reopen and weddings and other life events may be allowed to go ahead without restrictions.
However, most other businesses, workplaces and venues should be allowed to reopen much sooner, along with most restrictions on households and individuals.
While the roadmap offers good news for many, it is also confirmation for some businesses, such as nightclubs, that they face a minimum of another four months of mandatory closure, which will clearly be distressing news for people whose livelihoods depend on them.
Furthermore, it is unlikely that this will be the end of all COVID restrictions; face coverings and social distancing may continue to be mandatory and there is always the possibility of a resurgence of the virus.
As you will have noticed, we are also using the word ‘may’ in describing these steps. This is because, while the government will face pressure to stick to the dates they have indicated or to bring them forward, the Prime Minister and the health secretary have made it clear the dates for each step of the roadmap could be pushed back, delaying the ending of restrictions.
It is also not clear what government support schemes will continue for businesses and individuals throughout this period of easing restrictions: The Prime Minister has said the government ‘will not pull the rug out’ and ‘will continue to do whatever it takes to protect jobs and livelihoods across the UK’ but no new support or extensions to existing schemes have been announced so far. These will be detailed in the chancellor’s Budget which will be revealed on Wednesday, 3 March, read our predictions for the Budget here.
Below, we set out what each of the four steps will mean and when they are expected.
From 8 March, all children and students will return to face to face education in schools and colleges, as will students on practical courses at universities. Wraparound childcare and other unsupervised children’s activities can resume if they enable parents to work, seek work, attend education, seek medical care or attend a support group. By reopening schools and childcare to more children, this will allow for more people to work - particularly those who are furloughed for childcare reasons.
Care homes will be able to permit each resident one regular visitor, provided they are tested and that they wear personal protective equipment (PPE).
Weddings will be able to take place with up to six guests.
A secondary element of step one will see further changes from 29 March, which is when most schools break up for Easter. From this date, outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed, including in private gardens.
Outdoor sports facilities, such as tennis or basketball courts will also be able to reopen and people can take part in formally organised outdoor sports.
On this date, the 'stay at home' order will end, but people should still work from home where possible and minimise travel. Overseas travel will remain banned, aside from a small number of exceptions.
From 12 April, all non-essential retail, personal care premises, such as hairdressers and nail salons, and public buildings, such as libraries and community centres, should be allowed to reopen.
Hospitality venues such as pubs and restaurants should also be able to reopen, serving people outdoors only. Unlike before, there will be no need for customers to order a substantial meal in order to drink alcohol and there will be no curfew. However, customers must order, eat and drink while seated.
Step two will also see self-contained accommodation, such as self-catering holiday lets, reopen provided they do not have indoor facilities that are shared with other households.
Most outdoor attractions and settings, such as zoos and theme parks, may also reopen, albeit with ‘wider social contact rules’ in place to prevent different households mixing indoors. Drive-in cinemas and drive-in performances will also be permitted.
This date should see indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and swimming pools reopening too, but only for use by people on their own or with members of their household, rather than with friends etc.
Lastly, up to 15 people can attend weddings, receptions and commemorative events such as wakes.
From 17 May, the limit on the number of people from different households who can meet outdoors should rise to 30, although social distancing rules will remain in place.
Indoors, people can meet in groups of six or in a group of two households, although this will be kept under review.
From this stage, hospitality venues such as pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers indoors, provided they order, eat and drink while seated. Indoor entertainment venues, such as cinemas and soft play areas, will also be allowed to reopen, as will the rest of the accommodation sector, such as hotels.
Outdoor performances such as outdoor cinemas and theatrical productions will also be allowed to take place and larger performances and sporting events in indoor venues. These will be limited to 10,000 people in attendance or half capacity (whichever is lower). Outdoor venues will also be allowed to host performances with up to 4,000 people or quarter capacity (whichever is lower).
Meanwhile, the limit on the number of people who can attend weddings, receptions, funerals and wakes will rise to 30 from this point and other life events such as bar mitzvahs and christenings will be allowed to take place.
All being well, the final lockdown restrictions will lift from 21 June, with all legal limits on social contact lifted. Nightclubs will be able to reopen and large events and performances will be able to take place without the restrictions detailed in step three.
It may be the case that limitations on other events such as weddings can also be lifted, but this is unclear for now.
Looking beyond this point, the government is considering a range of approaches to support the further relaxation of restrictions beyond this point. This may include COVID status certification which would involve people having a virtual certificate to prove that they have had a recent test or have received a vaccine. Other considerations are enhanced testing and other measures to allow larger events with reduced social distancing and a system whereby people can only travel internationally if they have had a vaccine.
Each of these will be reviewed in the coming months, as will other social distancing measures including the use of face coverings and working from home guidance.
This framework will give some much-needed guidance for businesses affected by the lockdown restrictions and it offers hope for a successful summer ahead of us. However, reopening a business can be challenging in itself, as well as ensuring that all COVID-secure measures and rules are followed.
If you’d like support for your business as you prepare for the end of restrictions, please contact our team for professional business advice and support.