It’s being called Lockdown 3, “the worst sequel ever”. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement on 4 January places the whole of England in a state of near-complete lockdown, in a bid to contain the highly infectious new variant. The other UK countries have imposed similar strict restrictions. Here’s how the new rules will affect families in England.
Will All Schools Close?
The new lockdown closes all schools in England, including those in areas that were previously deemed lower risk. This includes both primary and secondary schools as well as most places of higher education. Schools may remain open for children from vulnerable families, or those of key workers, but other children will be expected to study by remote learning (see our guide to homeschooling resources). There are some exemptions for higher education, including students on medical or teacher training programmes.
How Long Will It Last?
According to the Prime Minister, this situation is likely to last until at least the end of February half term (19 February at most schools). By then, it’s hoped that enough people in vulnerable groups will have received a vaccination to permit cautious reopening.
What About Nurseries?
One surprise to many was the announcement that nurseries and other childcare settings can remain open. This was not allowed during the first lockdown last March. If you are taking a child to nursery, be careful to keep your distance from other parents and children, keep interactions with staff to a minimum and always wear a mask. Other forms of childcare, such as child minders and childcare bubbles can also continue as before.
Are Playgrounds Staying Open?
Yes. This is another difference from Lockdown 1 when, in one of the more dystopian lowlights of 2020, the use of playgrounds was deemed illegal. You can continue to enjoy playgrounds, whenever the winter weather makes that feasible -- just remember to follow the rules.
What’s Happening With Support Bubbles?
The new rules make no difference to either support bubbles or childcare bubbles. Carry on as before, though be extra careful if elderly or vulnerable people are part of your bubble.
Where Can We Go Out?
Other than the ‘essential reasons’ (food shopping, medical/health needs and work that can’t be done at home), your options for leaving the house are very limited. “Stay at home” is the stern and sensible mantra. The one option for families is to visit an outdoor space for exercise.
Most categories of outdoor space remain open, including parks, gardens, beaches, national parks and the outdoor areas of heritage sites (check ahead as some may close).
What Does “To Exercise” Mean? Can We Just Mill About In The Park?
The rules here sound clear but open a can of worms. Government advice is worded as follows: “You can only leave your home to exercise, and not for the purpose of recreation or leisure (e.g. a picnic or a social meeting). Sounds fair enough, and few people would be considering a picnic in January anyway. But what about families with small children? A three-year-old is unlikely to “exercise”, as such, in a park. They are more likely to forage for stones, fall in puddles, demand a go on the swing, and follow their own curiosity. Does this count as exercise? I guess we’ll just have to use our own judgement on this one.
The other restriction is that you may only go out for exercise once per day, so make it count!
How Far Can We Go From Home?
Planning to drive across the country to take in a beach? Don’t do it. Government advice is to stay local. Very local…
“If you do leave home for a permitted reason, you should always stay local in the village, town, or part of the city where you live. You may leave your local area for a legally permitted reason, such as for work.”
What counts as your “part of the city” is open to interpretation, of course, but you should clearly not be travelling far.
Can We Use Public Transport?
We’re heavily encouraged to avoid public transport unless absolutely necessary. However, Government wording suggests that this may be permissible if you need to travel to reach an area suitable for outdoor exercise: “This should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel a short distance within your area to do so if necessary (for example, to access an open space)”. See How To Keep Safe on Public Transport.
Can We Meet Up With Anyone Else?
Meeting socially is completely ruled out. Kids in nursery are about the only ones who will get that luxury. Otherwise, you may only mingle with people in your household and support bubble. The one sort-of exception is exercise. You are permitted to exercise with one other person from another household (e.g. go for a jog).
Will Exams Go Ahead In The Summer?
The Government is still working on this, but it looks unlikely that the summer exams will take place at their usual time, or at all. “In the circumstances, we do not think it is possible for all exams in the summer to go ahead as planned. We will accordingly be working with Ofqual to consult rapidly to put in place alternative arrangements that will allow students to progress fairly.”
This information was correct at the time of going to press (5 January 2021) for people living in England.
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