It’s the boldest move yet for taking England out of lockdown. From 12 April, families will once again be able to enjoy many experiences that have been denied for over a quarter of a year. Here, briefly, is what’s happening, and how to enjoy the new freedoms safely.
What’s Happening On 12 April
Lockdown law changes significantly in England to allow many businesses to reopen for the first time this year. Here are the developments particularly relevant to families. Note: other parts of the UK are following a different timetable, so check the Government website for details.
1. Non-essential retail reopens. The high street will suddenly look very different. All the shops deemed ‘non-essential’ will be allowed to open once more. This includes clothes shops, card shops, toy shops, charity shops and homeware shops, among others. They will be able to remain open until 10pm.
2. Hairdressers return! No more faffing about with scissors and a pudding bowl. From 12 April, hairdressers and barbers will reopen, and everyone can finally get a professional trim. Other personal services such as nail salons will also be permitted to open.
3. Libraries are back. Some libraries have remained open in a very limited way, such as handing out book parcels chosen by librarians. However, from 12 April, we can go back inside and choose our own books. Other public buildings, such as community halls and centres, can also reopen. Sadly, museums must wait another month.
4. We can go swimming again. Although outdoor pools reopened on 29 March, indoor facilities (which are much more in-demand by families at this time of year) had to wait until now. Check your local pool’s website as many, if not all, will need you to pre-book, so they can keep an eye on numbers. Other indoor sports and fitness facilities are also allowed to reopen. That includes dance studios, climbing walls, sports courts and gyms.
5. UK holidays are permitted. From this date, certain types of accommodation are once again allowed to operate. This includes self-catering holiday homes, so long as the home is only occupied by one household or bubble. Hotels and B&Bs, where guests from different households are more likely to bump into one another, must remain closed until May.
6. We can eat out again (weather permitting). Eating and drinking inside restaurants remains off-limits. However, from 12 April, eateries can serve food outside to household groups or other groups following rule-of-six rules. This includes facilities such as pub beer gardens and outdoor spaces attached to restaurants. One change this time round is that all members of the party aged over 16 must check in, via the NHS Test and Trace app or by writing down details. Previously, just one member of the party had to do so. Although we’ll all have to sit outside, customers will be allowed to use indoor toilets during their meal. Given the limitations on service, not all restaurants and cafes will choose (or even be able) to open on this date -- many will wait until May when indoor service is expected to resume.
7. Theme parks and other outdoor attractions reopen. Days out can now become a bit more exciting than another trip to the local park. Any outdoor attraction may now open its gates, so long as it’s taken the appropriate safety measures. This includes zoos, theme parks, sculpture parks, drive-ins, funfairs, model villages and water parks. Although most museums cannot reopen yet, those with significant outdoor sections may choose to open up that part.
8. Some types of outdoor event can go ahead. The rules open the doors for certain types of event. To quote the Government website: “Some outdoor events, organised by a business, charity, public body or similar organisation, can be organised, subject to specific conditions: that they comply with COVID-Secure guidance including taking reasonable steps to limit the risk of transmission, complete a related risk assessment; and ensure that those attending do not mix beyond what is permitted by the social contact limits”. It goes on to give examples of event types, such as a “fete, fairground, or literary fair to be organised, provided people do not mix beyond groups of 6 people or two households”.
9. You can visit (or leave) Wales. Although Wales is easing many aspects of lockdown later than England, the border will be opened again from 12 April. Anyone can move freely across the border for leisure or other purposes. The Scottish border should reopen later in April.
10. Meeting up. You can continue meeting in groups of six, or any number from two households. The rules on meeting up are unchanged from the last lockdown easing.
What You Can’t Yet Do
The changed rules are a huge step towards a return to normality, but they are still restrictive in many ways. Crucially, meeting friends and family indoors is still not permitted. That makes it hard for two households who live in different parts of the UK to reunite (hotels and B&Bs cannot reopen until mid-May), and also effectively rules out gatherings during bad weather.
International travel for leisure or holidays is still not permitted. The threat of importing new strains of the virus is too high for this sector to open up now, though there are hopes that summer holidays might be possible. Finally, museums and galleries are to stay shut until mid-May, which has been a blow to many families.
How To Have Fun Safely
Although the world is slowly opening up, we will be taking precautions for some time yet. Masks and social distancing will be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, perhaps on into 2022. We should also wash and sanitise hands after going out, and whenever we touch surfaces (for example, after a trip to the playground).
We are no longer legally obliged to stay local, though the advice is to do so as much as possible. The Government has so-far been very quiet on the use of public transport for leisure, but it would seem sensible to avoid using it if possible, and certainly to dodge the peak times.
We put together guides on safely going out during the summer of 2020, whose main messages still apply. Take a look at our guides to safety in playgrounds, on public transport, while shopping, at the swimming pool and when dining out.
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