Last reviewed 22 September 2020

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tightened up national lockdown rules to tackle a second rise in coronavirus infections.

After warnings by the Government’s leading medical advisers that the rate of Covid infection was rising again, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told the House of Commons that new restrictions must be put into place and could be needed for up to six months.

“We always knew that, while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real,” he told MPs. “And I am sorry to say that — as in Spain and France and many other countries — we have reached a perilous turning point.” He emphasised that this was not “a return to the full lockdown of March”.

Mr Johnson highlighted that, a month ago, on average around a thousand people across the UK were testing positive for coronavirus every day. The latest figure has almost quadrupled to 3929.

Furthermore, while the number of new cases is growing fastest amongst those aged between 20 and 29, the evidence shows that the virus is spreading to other more vulnerable age groups.

On the advice of the four Chief Medical Officers, the UK’s Covid alert level has been raised from 3 to 4, the second most serious stage, meaning that transmission is high or rising exponentially.

Main points made by the Prime Minister

  1. The Government is not issuing a general instruction to stay at home.

  2. It will ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open and that businesses can stay open in a Covid-compliant way.

  3. The Government is asking office workers who can work from home to do so.

  4. In key public services — and in all professions where homeworking is not possible, such as construction or retail — people should continue to attend their workplaces.

  5. From 24 September (Thursday), all pubs, bars and restaurants must operate table-service only, except for takeaways.

  6. Together with all hospitality venues, they must close at 10pm (and that means closing, not calling for last orders). The same applies to takeaways, although deliveries can continue thereafter

  7. The requirement to wear face coverings will be extended to include staff in retail, all users of taxis and private hire vehicles and staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table to eat or drink.

  8. In retail, leisure, tourism and other sectors, the Government’s Covid-secure guidelines will become legal obligations with businesses fined and could be closed if they breach these rules.

  9. From 28 September (Monday), a maximum of 15 people will be able to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions although up to 30 can still attend a funeral as now.

  10. The “rule of six” will be extended to all adult indoor team sports.

  11. Plans to reopen business conferences, exhibitions and large sporting events will not now go ahead from 1 October as previously suggested.

The Prime Minister stressed that the measures he has announced all apply in England but the Devolved Administrations are taking similar steps.

Penalties

A fine of up to £10,000 for those who fail to self-isolate has already been introduced and will now be applied to businesses breaking Covid rules.

The penalty for failing to wear a face covering or breaking the rule of six will now double to £200 for a first offence.

“We will provide the police and local authorities with the extra funding they need,” Mr Johnson said. “There will be a greater police presence on our streets and the option to draw on military support where required to free up the police.”

Comment — Kate Palmer, Associate Director of HR Advisory at Peninsula

It is important to remember that the Prime Minister’s speech in the Commons is to be followed by an address to the nation tonight, meaning further information could still be provided. Nevertheless, it has provided us with a bit more clarity as to what we can expect in the coming months. It seems that the Government has now reversed homeworking guidance in England, now once again advising staff to work from home if they can. Whilst the Prime Minister stressed that this does not apply to jobs where staff cannot work from home, such as retail, it does mean that employers will now need to consider implementing a new or further period of homeworking for staff that fall into this category. This may be frustrating news for some businesses, however, they should bear in mind that they will, presumably, have found ways to make this work during the initial lockdown months. The Prime Minister outlined that these restrictions will remain under constant review; they may be relaxed or strengthened depending on the level of infection. He also was keen to point out that they may be in place, in some capacity, for at least six months. Despite the hard months we have ahead, one topic of discussion did remain conspicuously absent from this statement; whether the furlough scheme will be extended. On this, it seems, we must wait for further notification from the Government.