England’s second lockdown comes to an end at the stroke of midnight, when 1 December becomes 2 December. The change will see several freedoms regained (especially for those in Tiers 1 and 2). However, we’re still a long, long way from normal family life.
Five Things You Can Do Again
Small Playdates: During lockdown, any meeting between two households was severely restricted. The rule of six became a rule of two -- one individual could meet just one other from another household (although pre-schoolers didn’t count to the total). Now we’re back up to rule-of-six territory again, which means small playdates are possible for any age group. Practically speaking, this means up to three kids from separate households can gather (each with one parent). Where you can meet depends upon your Tier. Those in Tier 3 can only meet other households in a public space like a park or beach. Tier 2 families can additionally use gardens for socialising. The lucky few in Tier 1 can meet indoors.
Get Sporty: Grassroots sports and classes are once again permitted. Your kids can go to football clubs or hockey practice, or whatever other sport they favour. Adults can now also participate in organised sport or exercise classes. In addition, leisure centres, swimming pools and gyms will be allowed to open across all tiers. Those in Tiers 1 and 2 can also enjoy spectator sports, such as football matches, subject to social distancing rules.
Dine Out as a Family: Those living in Tiers 1 and 2 can make full use of restaurants and cafes once again, though those in Tier 2 must stick to their household or social bubble. You can expect table service in any premises that serves alcohol, though counter service is allowed in places that don’t (e.g. coffee shops). Those living in Tier 3 must wait, as hospitality can only open for takeaway, drive-through or collection.
Visit Softplay: A whole host of leisure venues come back on-line with the easing of lockdown. Besides leisure centres and swimming pools, those living in Tiers 1 and 2 can also go bowling, ice skating, to trampoline parks, softplay and other activity centres. With cold, wet weather ruling out the playground, this will be a welcome relief to many families.
Go Shopping: Perhaps the most noticeable change with the end of English lockdown is the shops. They’re all open again -- or at least the ones that haven’t gone under. Just in time for Christmas, high streets are opening up and shopping malls are unlocking their doors. No new restrictions are in place. Just remember to wear your mask (if over 11) and try to keep distance from other people (challenging during the Christmas rush).
And Five Things That May Have To Wait
Birthday Parties: With a group limit of no more than six (including parents) and inter-household indoor gatherings banned across almost all of the country, the children’s birthday party remains a pipedream. You may be able to get two or three friends together outdoors, but nobody’s going to be passing a parcel or competing musically for chairs any time soon. Other than a tiny outdoor celebration, the only way to get a group of kids together is via a virtual party on services like Zoom or Facetime.
Visit Relatives Across the Country: The end of lockdown means that anyone not in Tier 3 can once again use transport (public or private) for any purpose. In theory, you can drive to another part of the country to visit relatives. However, for many, this won’t be practical. Those living in Tier 2 are barred from meeting indoors. That would mean a long drive followed by a shivery winter get-together outdoors (of no more than six people). You can’t even do that if your loved ones live in Tier 3 (much of the Midlands, the North and Kent), as travel into or out of that Tier zone is not permitted without a critical reason. These rules will be relaxed over the five day “Christmas Ease” (23-27 December), but expect the roads to be busy.
Hug Grandparents: Lockdown or not, you still can’t come within a metre or two of anyone from another household, unless they’re in your support bubble. That means that most grandparents can’t hug their grandchildren. During the Christmas ease (23-27 December), many families will reunite in larger bubbles. Government advice remains that close contact should be avoided, especially with elderly or vulnerable relatives. Professor Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, put it bluntly: "Would I encourage someone to hug and kiss their elderly relatives? No, I would not...If you want them to survive to be hugged again."
Sleepovers: The age-old tradition of the sleepover is still possible if you’re in one of the very few parts of England in Tier 1. For everyone else, visiting friends or family indoors is ruled out, and that includes sleepovers. A sleepover would be possible during the Christmas ease, but the friend’s house would have to count as one of the two households you’re allowed to meet.
Go Abroad: Lockdown put a ban on any international travel for leisure. Its lifting means that families in Tiers 1 and 2 can again visit another country, at least in theory. However, the regained freedom comes with so many caveats that it might be impractical for most families. The biggest hurdle is quarantine. Many popular countries, including France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the USA are not on the “travel corridors” list. That means, if you visit, you face a two week quarantine when you return to the UK. That doesn’t sit pretty with school attendance. Even countries that are currently on the “travel corridor” list, for which no isolation is required, may change status at very short notice. The situation may be eased with the upcoming “test to release” scheme, but this will cost about £100 per person and you’ll still need to isolate for five days if the result is negative. Add to this the hassle of local lockdowns in other countries, last-minute flight cancellations and, of course, the increased risk of spending so much time on public transport, and the idea of travelling abroad for a holiday will be undesirable if not impractical for many.
Although originally from the Midlands, and trained as a biochemist, Matt has somehow found himself writing about London for a living. He's a former editor and long-time contributor to Londonist.com and has written several books about the capital. He's also the father of two preschoolers.