What counts as essential travel during the Covid-19 lockdown?

5 June 2020

The law and the government guidance around social distancing changed from 1 June, meaning this piece is now out of date.  You can read our new article on the latest guidance here.

We’ve been asked by readers what counts as essential travel during the Covid-19 lockdown.  New government guidance on lockdown measures was released on 11 May, and this article has been updated to reflect those changes. 

The new guidance only applies to England, and to members of the public who are fit and healthy. It comes into force on 13 May.

People identified as being high risk—the clinically vulnerable, or the clinically extremely vulnerable who have been advised to shield—should continue to follow existing guidance and remain at home where possible.

You should still ensure you stay at home as much as possible, and keep two metres apart from anyone outside of your household. Police have the power to fine or arrest people who break the new laws around social distancing. From 13 May, the fines are now higher, with a fixed penalty notice of £100 for anyone who breaks the law. 

It is important to remember that if you or other members of your household have symptoms of the new coronavirus, you should not leave your house unless absolutely necessary, or to exercise until your period of self-isolation is over. 

If you’re not sure whether your reason for travel is essential then you can check the government’s guidance which can be found here and their FAQs which can be found here.

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When you can travel

The law lists various reasons why you might need to leave the house (detailed below), but these aren’t meant to be exhaustive. 

As well as this, the government has set out new guidance on when you’re allowed to leave the house if you do not have symptoms.

It is now advised that people wear face masks or coverings in public places where social distancing is not possible, such as on public transport or in shops. Government advice suggests avoiding being face-to-face with people outside of your household, and says you can lower the risk of infection if you stay side-to-side. 


You can go shopping for basic necessities, such as food and medicine, as infrequently as possible. You can also go to garden centres. Although you should not use public transport unless you have to and the government advises you to try and avoid peak times, there are no rules against driving to the shops. 

Police guidance  on the law in England says it is likely to be reasonable to leave the house to buy several days’ worth of food, including luxury items and alcohol, or to buy a small amount of necessary items or collect surplus basic food items from a friend.

Going outdoors

You can meet with one person from outside your household at a time, as long as you stay two metres apart. 

You can now exercise outdoors as often as you wish, as long as you follow social distancing guidelines and remain two metres away from people outside of your household. This includes using outdoor sports courts and facilities, like tennis or basketball courts or golf courses. 

You can also spend more time outdoors. Sitting in the fresh air, picnicking and sunbathing are all now permitted. 

There are no more restrictions on travelling to outdoor open spaces. You can travel to any open space irrespective of distance, but should not travel with someone from outside of your household unless you can social distance, for example by cycling. The government also recommends checking that the outside space, for example if it is a National Park, is open and prepared for visitors before you travel. You can still not visit a second home. 

Caring for others 

You can also leave the house to care for elderly or vulnerable people, such as dropping shopping or medication at their door, as long as you have no coronavirus symptoms, no underlying health conditions, are under 70 and are not pregnant. More advice on caring for others can be found here. You should not share a car with anyone you do not live with.

Medical need

You can also leave your house for any medical need, including donating blood or attending medical appointments. There are no rules against driving for these reasons. 

Work and family

You are permitted to travel to work if you cannot work from home, for example if you work in construction, transport or for the NHS, but the government has urged these workers to avoid public transport if they can. 

Critical workers can still take their children to school or childcare providers, and children under the age of 18 can be moved between households if their parents do not live together. 

Other reasons 

The law says that leaving the house to avoid injury, illness or escape the risk of harm is allowed. Police guidance says it is also reasonable to move to a friend’s house for several days to allow a “cooling-off” following arguments at home.

If travelling is “absolutely necessary”, you are allowed to travel to access public services such as social services, the justice system, support for victims or support from the Department for Work and Pensions. These services should be provided and accessed remotely whenever possible. 

The government has advised homebuyers and renters to delay moving house, but you are permitted to do this if it is unavoidable.  Although leaving your home to stay at another home is generally not allowed, students leaving university halls to live permanently at their family home is permitted. 

You can also take your pet to the vet if it needs urgent treatment. 

Although the government has stopped social events such as weddings, baptisms and religious ceremonies, funerals can still be attended by immediate family or members of the deceased person’s household. If none of these are able to go to the funeral, friends can attend. Faith leaders have been asked to restrict the number of people attending funerals to ensure two metres can be kept between them, and no one showing symptoms of Covid-19 should attend.

Work in people’s homes, such as repairs and maintenance, can still be carried out as long as the tradesperson has no symptoms. If a household is isolating or includes a vulnerable person who is being shielded, work should only be carried out if there is a direct risk to the safety of a household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs. No work should be carried out by a tradesperson with coronavirus symptoms, no matter how mild. 

Police guidance says it is reasonable for someone to leave their house to buy equipment to make repairs, but not to redecorate. 

International and domestic freight transport, including by air, ship, road and rail, is classified as essential activity. Advice against non-essential travel does not apply to it.

When you can’t travel

The government has detailed in its guidance some of the specific cases where you are not allowed to travel. 

Essential travel does not include visits to second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar places, either for isolation or holidays. You should remain in your primary residence.

In general, you should not visit family or friends in their homes, unless one of the permissible reasons above applies, such as if you are caring for them or need to move children between their parents’ homes.

You should not use public transport unless you have to. If you do have to use it, you should try and avoid peak times. 

You still cannot exercise in an indoor sports court, gym or leisure centre, or go swimming in a public pool. Outdoor gyms and playgrounds cannot be used, and you cannot visit private or ticketed attractions. 

International travel

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all non-essential travel worldwide indefinitely.  

Government guidance says that whether international travel is essential or not “is a personal decision and circumstances differ from person to person. It is for individuals themselves to make an informed decision based on the risks and FCO advice.”

The government is also planning to ask most people entering the UK to self-isolate for 14 days, but this has not been introduced yet and more details are due to be released shortly. 

Further updates

In light of recent questions raised in the media and public debate about what counts as essential travel following the controversy over Dominic Cummings, we asked the government for more information about when it is permitted to travel to a location other than your primary residence, and to seek childcare.

We sent the following questions to the Department of Health and Social Care and to the Cabinet Office.


  • Does the guidance allow all members of a household to travel to a location, other than their primary residence, if one member of the household is showing symptoms of Covid-19, and they feel that (in the event more members of the household may become sick in the future) care for a person in the household may be easier to provide in that location?
  • If the guidance does allow this, do you have any additional guidance on what types of care would qualify? For example, care for an adult with disabilities, care for a clinically extremely vulnerable individual, ordinary childcare, etc?
  • Is there any additional guidance on how far people can reasonably travel for these purposes and what modes of transport they can take?
  • More broadly, does the guidance allow for members of a symptomatic household that is isolating to travel to a second location, if they feel that they would be better able to self-isolate at that second location?
  • And does the guidance allow for members of a household in which nobody is currently showing symptoms to travel to a second location if they feel that they would be better able to:
  • a) self-isolate, should it become necessary in the future, at that location?
  • b) provide care, should it become necessary in the future, at that location?


  • What steps should adults in a household with children take if they have a reasonable concern that all adults in the household may soon become unable to care for their children, due to symptoms of Covid-19? 
  • Can members of other households provide childcare, if the child(ren)’s parents or guardians have symptoms and feel they are unable to provide care?
  • Broadly, can members of other households provide childcare if required, even if the household with children is not showing any symptoms - for example if the adults in the household need to leave the house, to go to the supermarket or make a short trip for medical reasons?

The Cabinet Office pointed us towards the government’s stay at home guidance for household withs a possible Covid-19 infection and said: 

“This [guidance] sets out that that:

“If you are living with children

“Keep following this advice to the best of your ability, however, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said:

“All of our guidance related to travel and childcare during Covid-19 can be found on gov.uk.

If you want a statement about Dominic Cummings, you would need to speak to the political team at No10.”

Update 24 April 2020

This story has been updated to reflect changes in law and government and police guidance.

Update 11 May 2020

This story has been updated to reflect changes in government guidance.

Update 27 May 2020

We updated this article to include our questions and the responses from the government on travel and childcare.

Update 1 June 2020

Updated to acknowledge changes in the law and government guidance from 1 June.

Update 5 June 2020

This article has been archived.

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