What are the new lockdown rules on social distancing?

5th Jun 2020

From 1 June, the government has updated the law and guidance about what people in England are allowed to do during the Covid-19 lockdown. We’ve been asked by readers to explain the new rules around social distancing and shielding. 

Changes to this advice, including allowing people to form ‘support bubbles’, were announced on 10 June. This article has been updated to reflect this.

This only applies to people living in England. Additional guidance is available to people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The government advice is still to “stay alert and limit your contact with others”. 

It is important to remember that if you, other members of your household, or your support bubble, 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. You should also remain at home if you are told to self-isolate by the NHS test and trace service.

Where possible, you should stay at least two metres away from others that you do not live with, use a tissue when sneezing and dispose of it safely, cough into the crook of your elbow and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser if washing facilities are not easily available.

Face coverings are not currently compulsory, but you are advised to wear them in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible, such as on public transport. From 15 June, it will be compulsory to wear face coverings on all public transport, including buses, coaches, trains, trams, ferries and aircraft. 

The police can enforce the law if you breach regulations, including by issuing fixed penalty notices or making arrests. 

Meeting other people 

You can now meet in groups of up to six people from different households, as long as you remain outdoors and follow social distancing guidelines. 

From 13 June, adults who live alone or with children under the age of 18 but no other adult can form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household. People within this bubble will be permitted to spend time together inside each others’ homes, that includes overnight stays, without needing to stay two metres apart. One of the households must be a single adult household, and you should not change or add to your support bubble once it is formed.

If anyone within your support bubble has coronavirus symptoms, you must all remain at home. You will be able to meet outdoors with everyone in your support bubble—as you would people from your own household. As this guidance just applies to England you cannot travel to any other part of the UK to form a support bubble.

For people not within a support bubble, government guidance says you can meet people in a public outdoor space, private garden or uncovered yard or terrace. Where possible, you should access gardens without entering someone’s home and not go indoors unless you urgently need to use the toilet. If you do use the bathroom, you should wipe down surfaces afterwards. Although you can have barbeques and picnics, you should try to avoid sharing food and drink with people you don’t live with and avoid using plates or utensils that someone from another home has touched.

You cannot meet in garages, sheds or cabins with people you do not live with. You should avoid sharing garden or sports equipment, garden furniture, paddling pools and private swimming pools. 

It is still against the law to visit friends and family inside their homes or spend time indoors with anyone you do not live with in most circumstances. The exceptions include where two households are part of a support bubble or where this is necessary for work, emergency assistance or caring for the vulnerable. You are not allowed to stay overnight anywhere that you do not live without a “reasonable excuse”. As we’ve discussed before, it is ultimately up to a court to decide whether an individual excuse is a reasonable one. If you are in a support bubble with another household, you are permitted to stay overnight at their house.

As with all offences, it is also against the law to encourage someone to commit an offence, such as inviting them to a party. It is also an offence to threaten others with infection by coronavirus such as coughing or spitting in their direction. 

Shielding

Clinically extremely vulnerable people who have been shielding themselves are now allowed to go outside with other members of their household. If you live alone, you can meet one person from another household. However, you should continue to follow social distancing guidelines such as keeping two metres away from people you do not live with. If you have Covid-19 symptoms, no matter how mild, you should not meet with an extremely vulnerable person.

People who have been shielding are still at risk from Covid-19, and advised to only leave the house once a day. They should still avoid going to work, shops or crowded places, and are advised to try and go outside when less people are around, such as early in the morning. Currently extremely vulnerable people are advised to follow this guidance and shield until 30 June. Those who are shielding are not advised to form a support bubble.

If you are shielding and live with others, the advice is still to try and keep two metres away from others in your household and minimise the time you spend with others in shared spaces, including sleeping alone and using a separate bathroom where possible. 

Essential carers or visitors who support those who are shielding can continue to visit unless they have symptoms of Covid-19, but should try to keep two metres away and should wash their hands on arrival at the home they’re working in and often while they are there. 

We’ve written more about the new shielding advice here.

The advice for people over the age of 70, who don’t necessarily have to shield if they haven’t otherwise been classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, remains to take care to minimise contact with others outside of their household. 

Going outside 

Since 13 May, people in England have been allowed to spend time outside for recreation as well as exercise, as long as they maintain social distancing. 

You can visit gardens, nature reserves and parklands, and can drive to beaches and beauty spots irrespective of distance. However, you should still travel in a private vehicle only with members of your own household. You should not share a private vehicle with anyone you do not live with. Before travelling, you should ensure that attractions are open for visitors. If you are travelling to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you must ensure you are following the rules for that country. 

From 15 June, some additional outdoor attractions like drive-in cinemas, safari parks and zoos are permitted to open.

It is still not permitted to stay overnight - campsites and caravan parks are closed and you cannot stay in a holiday or second home. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as if you need to travel for work, are attending a funeral or need to leave your residence to avoid harm. You should avoid public transport if possible, but if you have to use public transport, the government has released safer travel guidance for passengers. From 15 June, anyone using public transport will have to wear a face covering.

The government recommends that you wash your hands as soon as you are back indoors, keep at least two metres apart from anyone outside of your household at all times and take hand sanitiser with you when you travel. 

Sports 

You can exercise as often as you wish. Some sporting facilities like tennis courts, basketball courts and golf courses re-opened from 13 May. New guidance says you can take part in sporting activities including fishing in groups of up to six people, or with your household, as long as you follow social distancing guidelines. Indoor facilities like changing rooms should stay closed, but toilets can open. 

You can swim in lakes or the sea and take part in water sports like sailing, surfing and rowing, but public indoor and outdoor swimming pools remain closed. Playgrounds, indoor and outdoor gyms and soft play facilities must stay closed. You can take your children with you to exercise, but you are responsible for ensuring they maintain social distancing.

Personal training or coaching is permitted, as long as it is outside and people stay a minimum of two metres apart, and there are no more than six people from different households. People playing team sports can meet to train together as long as they are in separate groups of no more than six and stay two metres apart.

Elite athletes and professional sportsmen and women can now take part in competitive sport behind closed doors including horseracing and football. 

However, there are strict conditions attached to this, including ensuring everyone involved in the sport travels individually and is screened for coronavirus symptoms before entering the competition venue, and maintaining social distancing where possible. 

Schools 

During the lockdown, many schools have remained open to teach vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. From 1 June, many schools will admit all children in early years, reception, Year 1 and Year 6. The government has said that, from 15 June, secondary schools and further education colleges will prepare to begin face-to-face support with Year 10 and 12 pupils. 

However, a change in the Coronavirus Act 2020 means that it is no longer an offence if a parent does not ensure their child attends school. This means parents do still have the option of keeping their child at home if they wish. 

Shops  

Outdoor markets and car showrooms can open from 1 June, and other non-essential retail stores will begin to open from 15 June if they meet the Covid-19 secure guidelines. Garden centres have been open since 13 May.

You should only go to the shops with people you live with or people who are within your support bubble, and you should maintain social distancing from other people at all times.

Currently, some businesses are still required by law to stay closed to the public, including restaurants and cafes (other than for takeaway), pubs, cinemas, nightclubs, salons, libraries and community centres.

Work 

You should still work from home if you can. Workers who cannot work from home are expected to go to work, avoiding public transport if possible. If you have to use public transport, the government has released safer travel guidance for passengers. 

The government expects sectors such as food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research to be open. Workplaces should be set up to meet the Covid-19 secure guidelines “as soon as practicable”, and try to ensure employees can maintain a two metre distance from others and wash their hands regularly.

Work in other people’s homes, such as repairs and maintenance and cleaning, can be carried out. 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 one should be going to their place of work if they have coronavirus symptoms, no matter how mild.

Moving house 

Anyone is allowed to move house as long as guidance on social distancing and hygiene measures is followed. This applies to both buyers and renters.

Students can move out of halls to their family home, but only if they plan on remaining there for the duration of the lockdown.

Weddings, funerals and worship 

There is very little change to the guidance on weddings, funerals and worship. This means weddings and civil partnerships are still not permitted to take place, although some are being allowed to take place for people who are seriously ill and not expected to recover and where it is safe to do so in line with Public Health England guidance. 

Current guidance on funerals recommends restricting the number of mourners to be as low as possible to ensure they can remain two metres apart, and only allowing members of the deceased person’s household, or support bubble, and close family to attend - or close friends if family and household members cannot attend. 

From 13 June, the government has said people can attend their place of worship for individual prayer.

Update 11 June 2020

This article was updated to reflect changes in government guidance and remove a section relating to previous coronavirus laws.