National lockdown: so what are the changes?
England is now in national lockdown from midnight on Wednesday 6th January 2021. Changes have been introduced to earlier regulations through the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 3) and (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021. They will remain in place until 31 March 2021 unless varied.
What does it mean for us?
In short, there are two main things:
- England is brought into Tier 4 (some areas were already in Tier 4 (Stay at Home), but others had been in Tier 1 = medium alert, Tier 2 = high alert or Tier 3 = very high alert.)
- some (stricter) changes to Tier 4 rules for all
So, the whole of England is in one uniform system that is more restricted than before in some ways.
The main Tier 4 rule changes
- outdoor recreation is removed as an exception from the restriction on leaving your home (but exercise continues to be permitted)
- the exception for under 18s to participate in outdoor sports gatherings is removed, but outdoor sports facilities can be used for specific purposes including elite sports, registered childcare or supervised activities for children and by schools
- hospitality businesses cannot sell alcohol for takeaway
- closure of zoos, aquariums, safari parks and outdoor animal attractions, outdoor sports facilities (e.g. golf courses, tennis courts and outside gyms) and retail travel agents;
- restricting childcare (other than early years provision i.e. nurseries remain open) and supervised activities for children to vulnerable children and children of critical workers
- removing the exemption to the gatherings restrictions for parent and child groups.
Staying at home
As before, you must remain at home, unless it is for a certain purpose that is ‘reasonably necessary’. In essence, this is similar to the March lockdown. There are many permitted purposes but the specifics of each needs to be checked against the exact wording of the law to ensure it is being complied with. The effect is that you can leave home for the following broad purposes:
- buying goods or services from businesses that are allowed to be open
- work, if you cannot reasonably and practically work at home
- obtain/deposit money
- take exercise (alone or with same / linked household) or with one other in a public outdoor place
- attend a place of worship
- residential property (moving house, or buying/selling/letting etc.)
- visiting linked household
- collecting pre-ordered food and drink (but no longer off-sales takeaway alcohol from pubs etc.)
- work, voluntary services, training, accessing public services
- medical purposes and attending support groups and respite care
- funerals and death-bed visits
- civil partnerships and marriages
- childcare, including contact and access for parents/ siblings
- animal welfare
- other various reasons: voting, prison visits, student households (students can move once between households before 8/2/21)
Working from home
It remains the case that you have to work from home unless it is ‘not reasonably practicable’ for you to work from home. (The same applies to the provision of voluntary or charitable services.) In practice, there will be many employees who could work at home but are permitted to and/or encouraged by their employer to come to the workplace. Many such employees may also have difficult housing or personal needs, such that they want to work away from home. Nevertheless, the law specifically states that the ‘reasonably practicality’ rule applies. In some sectors e.g. construction, transport, health and manufacturing it is obvious that work simply cannot be carried out at home and this is recognised in Government guidance.
The following must close, in addition to those already closed:
- aquariums, zoos, safari parks, farm animal attractions, wildlife centres and all other places exhibiting animals to the public as an attraction (outdoor and indoor);
- outdoor sports grounds and facilities, that include outdoor gyms, sports courts, swimming pools, water sports, shooting, archery venues, golf courses and driving ranges (exceptions for elite athletes, persons with a disability and for schools and education providers that remain open)
- retail travel agents
Whilst it is still permissible to sell food and drink as ‘off-sales’ (i.e. for consuming off the premises) alcohol may not be sold in this way. So, you cannot collect beer from the local pub. This does not affect sales of alcohol in normal shopping or through wine merchants etc.
There still cannot be a gathering of more than two people in a ‘specified outdoor place’. However, again, there are exceptions to indoor/ outdoor gatherings that include:
- you are in the same or linked household
- education and training
- work purposes
- legal obligations or purposes e.g. court
- support groups and respite care
- attending births (mother to consent), marriages /commemorative events (max 6 persons) and funerals (max 30) & worship
- elite sports training
- student households
The law and Government guidance
As always confusion is caused where what you should do (the guidance) is presented as what you must do (the law), however well-intentioned. It causes problems, such as with law enforcement. An example is physical exercise – the Guidance suggests this be taken once per day, but the law does not restrict it in this way in the Regulations. It is vital always to be aware of what the law actually is.
The College of Policing has confirmed it will continue to seek compliance through voluntary cooperation, adopting the tiered engage/explain/encourage/enforce as a last resort approach. However, fixed penalty notices can be issued for offences (£200, reduced to £100 if paid within 14 days). There is a ‘multiplier’ for further offences. The penalty amount doubles for each subsequent offence to a maximum of £6,400.
For those engaged in organising or facilitating gatherings of more than 30 persons, the penalty is £10,000. Some such penalties have already been issued.
Footnote: the above provides a general summary of changes and an overview of the current COVID lockdown provisions. It is not intended as legal advice that needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis.
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