Schools could stay shut after February half term

Schools could stay shut BEYOND February half-term: Michael Gove says children will ‘SUFFER’ by being kept at home… but admits ministers will only REVIEW return to classes in six weeks

  • Michael Gove suggested that end-of-year exams for pupils will be abolished
  • Cabinet Minister said schools could remain closed even after February half-term 
  • Boris Johnson has shut all primary and secondary schools until mid-February 
  • But there are calls for clarity over whether GCSE and A-levels exams will be held 
  • Reports exams could still go ahead for core subjects such as English and maths 

Michael Gove dealt another blow to parents today as he suggested schools could remain closed after the February half-term.

In a stark warning this morning, the former education secretary hinted schools may open even later than expected if the government’s vaccination drive lags behind.  

As England is put in the grip of another lockdown, Mr Gove warned that restrictions will only start to be lifted gradually in March – forcing parents and teachers to brace for yet more weeks of home learning. 

The Cabinet Minister said that while education was the ‘number one priority’, the government, ‘must make progress with vaccination.’  

Just a day after he urged parents to send their children back, Boris Johnson declared in a sombre address from No10 last night that primary and secondary schools will be shut from today, with only the vulnerable and offspring of key workers allowed to go in.

The extraordinary eleventh hour U-turn – which came on the day many reopened after Christmas – has infuriated school leaders and unions who attacked the Government’s policy as ‘madness’.

Today, Mr Gove also suggested that end-of-year exams for pupils will be abolished in favour of alternative styles of assessment following the new lockdown.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether A-levels and GCSEs in England are cancelled, the former education secretary said: ‘Yes.’

He added: ‘My own daughter is due to sit A-levels this year, my son due to sit GCSEs – I know how hard students across the country between Years 11 and 13 have been working.

‘We will be putting in place alternative arrangements in order to make sure that the hard work that students have put in to acquire knowledge and develop their skills is appropriately assessed, recognised and awarded.’

Scroll down for the full government lockdown guidelines 

A youngster begins the new school term of 2021 at home by watching an online introduction from his teacher

Year 9 student Isla Stanton, 14, begins her home learning in Ashford, Kent

As England is placed in the grip of another lockdown and months more coronavirus chaos:

  • Rishi Sunak today announced another £4.6billion of bailouts for lockdown-stricken businesses as economists warned of the ‘colossal’ hit from the surging pandemic;
  • Arrivals at UK borders are set to have to show they have tested negative for Covid in the last 72 hours in another major U-turn from government;
  • The PM is set to hold a press conference with medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance at 5pm;  
  • Streets and city centres were quiet as Britons digested the new restrictions being placed on their lives;
  • Hundreds of medical professionals have called for hospital staff to be given higher grade personal protective equipment (PPE) amid growing concern over airborne transmission of coronavirus; 
  • The scale of the problem was underlined as the latest grim daily tally was released, with 58,784 new cases – a 42 per cent rise on last Monday. 

Summer exams are off as schools, colleges and universities shut 

Schools and colleges across England will be told to shut until the middle of February under Boris Johnson’s new national coronavirus lockdown. 

Primary and secondary schools will have to shift to remote learning for the overwhelming majority of pupils, with only vulnerable children and the children of key workers allowed to attend classes in person. 

Meanwhile, university students will be banned from returning to campuses and will be told to study remotely from home as the Prime Minister desperately tries to get the rate of Covid-19 infection back under control. 

The restrictions and school closures are expected to last until the February half-term which is due to begin on February 15.    

The massive disruption to learning means the Government will rethink its current plan for pupils to sit GCSEs and A-levels broadly as normal in May and June. 

However, pupils and parents face an uncertain next few weeks, with the Department for Education and exam regulator Ofqual yet to hammer out the details of the updated exams plan. 

Despite the school closures, early years settings like nurseries, as well as special schools, will be allowed to remain open during lockdown. 

Announcing the shutdown of the nation’s schools during an address to the nation from Downing Street this evening, Mr Johnson said the Government had no choice but to take the drastic action as ministers ‘do everything we possibly can to stop the spread of the disease’. 

The Prime Minister said he ‘completely understands the inconvenience and distress this late change will cause millions of parents’ and that ‘we recognise that this will mean it is not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal’. 

Mr Johnson said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will announce ‘alternative arrangements’ for the assessment of pupils in the coming weeks.   

Mr Gove said the full details are being worked out between Ofqual and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

He added: ‘One of the things about assessment is that it necessarily involves those students doing particular tasks which teachers will assess. 

‘Whether or not they are moderated in a particular fashion by particular awarding bodies or others is a delicate process.’

He also said the Prime Minister, who had urged that pupils carry on attending schools just hours before announcing on Monday night that they would shut, had reluctantly decided to act when confronted with a change in coronavirus alert level.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘The four chief medical officers of the United Kingdom met and discussed the situation yesterday and their recommendation was that the country had to move to Level 5, the highest level available of alert that meant there was an imminent danger to the NHS of being overwhelmed unless action was taken.

‘And so in the circumstances we felt that the only thing we could do was to close those primary schools that were open.

‘Of course, it was with the heaviest of hearts because education is such an important part of any young person’s life and we want to keep schools open as much as possible, but the message from the chief medical officers yesterday was clear and therefore, with a heavy heart but with clear evidence, we had to act.’

Mr Gove said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will address a recalled House of Commons on Wednesday to update MPs on how pupils will be assessed at the end of the year, following further disruption to their learning.

He told Sky News: ‘The Education Secretary has been talking to the exams regulator Ofqual in order that we can find a way of recognising the immense hard work that students across the country have put in this year.

‘Obviously we can’t have A-levels, GCSEs or B-techs in the way that we have had them in the past but there are ways of ensuring that we can assess the work that students have done, give them a fair recognition of that and help them onto the next stage of their education.

‘The Education Secretary will be saying more about that but it is critically important that parents and students recognise that their work will be recognised at the end of this year – it is not the case that anyone would, or anyone would want to, down tools as it were.

‘It is critically important that children maintain their learning and we will be supporting them to do so by making it easier for more and more students to access remote learning.’

Why is England going into lockdown again?

Cases caused by the new, more infectious variant of Covid-19 are surging rapidly in every part of the country. In the past week they have gone up by 30 per cent, and the number is 40 per cent higher than the peak of the first wave in April. Medical experts have warned the NHS could be overwhelmed in 21 days unless action is taken.

How long will it last?

Until mid-February. It will then be subject to a review.

Can I see family and friends?

The mixing of households indoors is not allowed outside of support bubbles. You can meet one other person outside your household for outdoor exercise.

If I am in a bubble with someone, can I still see them?

The support bubble system – where a person living alone can pair with another household – can continue. Childcare support bubbles are also still allowed.

Are schools closing?

Yes. All primary and secondary schools and colleges have to close and switch to online learning, except for the children of key workers and the most vulnerable. Universities must also stay closed. Early years providers, such as nurseries, and special schools can stay open.

Will GCSEs and A-levels be cancelled?

Boris Johnson said it would not be possible, or fair, for all exams to go ahead as normal this summer. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will work to put alternative arrangements in place.

Will churches and other places of worship stay open?

Yes, they are allowed to open for individual prayer and communal worship.

Can I go on holiday in the UK or abroad?

No. Only essential travel is allowed.

Will playgrounds stay open?

Unlike the first lockdown, yes.

Can I move home?

Yes, you can still view houses and move home.

Can I let my cleaner or plumber into my house?

Yes, essential visits by tradesmen can continue.

Can I still exercise?

You can exercise outdoors with your household, your support bubble or alone with one other person from another household. Exercise should be limited to once a day and should be local, meaning you should not drive to a beauty spot.

Can I play golf or tennis?

No. Courses and courts must shut.

Is professional sport affected?

No. Elite sports that are Covid-secure and have bubble systems can continue.

Will there be extra financial support?

The furlough scheme will remain in place until April.

Can I leave my house to get a Covid vaccine?

Yes, you can leave your home for all medical appointments.

Will garden centres be open?


Are restaurants open?

Not for eating inside, but cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars can serve takeaway food and non-alcoholic drinks until 11pm.

Will non-essential retailers such as clothes shops be open?

No. But click-and-collect services will be permitted to continue.

What about hairdressers and beauty salons?

No, they are among the non-essential shops that must close.

Can I go to work?

Only if you ‘absolutely cannot’ work from home. This means the construction industry can continue and key workers can continue to go to work.

Can I get married?

Only in exceptional circumstances, for example in cases where people are dying or have debilitating conditions.

I had to ‘shield’ last time – will I have to do this again?

Yes. Those who are clinically vulnerable and who were previously told to shield should stay at home and leave only for medical appointments or exercise. They will receive a letter shortly informing them about this.

Can I travel to my second home?

Travel is allowed only for essential work, shopping for necessities, exercise, caring for the vulnerable and medical reasons.

What shops are open?  

Food shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, garden centres, building merchants and suppliers of building products and off-licences are allowed to remain open, along with market stalls selling essential retail.

Can I go to the bank?  

Banks, building societies, post offices, short-term loan providers and money transfer businesses can stay open. 

Can I take my pet to the vet? 

Vets and retailers of products and food for the upkeep and welfare of animals can stay open, along with animal rescue centres

What about public facilities?  

Car parks, public toilets and motorway service areas, along with outdoor playgrounds, outdoor parts of botanical gardens and heritage sites for exercise can stay open 

Students have been left in tears amid more confusion over how Year 11 and Year 13 children will be assessed this year – including whether exams will definitely be stopped – with Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman telling ministers they must make up their minds immediately.

One option on the table reportedly involved keeping GCSE and A-Level exams for only ‘core subjects’ such as maths and English with all other exams marked based on coursework, according to the Daily Telegraph.  

Under-fire Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is working with Ofqual, who  considered having multiple exam papers for students, with a third on one day, a third the next and the final third after that. Under the plan they would all sit different exams to prevent cheating, but all marked in same way to the same standards.

But Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, claims schools minister Nick Gibb called her last night and admitted there would be no GCSE or A-level exams at all for the second year running. 

And amid the confusion Michael Gove later confirmed the exams would not happen before admitting schools could shut for longer if the vaccine rollout stalls.

Boris Johnson said in his TV address to the nation: ‘Primary schools, secondary schools and colleges must move to remote provision from tomorrow, except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.’

He hoped schools could begin to reopen after February half-term. Keeping schools open for children of key workers and those in vulnerable situations mirrors previous lockdowns.

Nurseries will also remain open and free meals will continue to be distributed.

As exams are not considered viable, the Department for Education will consult on how children can receive fair grades without the introduction of another disastrous algorithm.

Headteachers voiced despair at the wasted effort of preparing for just a single day of classroom learning. Katharine Birbalsingh, of Michaela Community School in Wembley, north London, said the sudden chopping and changing was ‘madness’.

She stressed: ‘I had my staff training today on administration of the Covid tests.

‘We changed our training plans last week to follow new Government guidance. Now suddenly we are delivering online learning tomorrow? This is madness.’

David Shakeshaft, of Firs Primary School in Birmingham, said he needed to undo ‘all the work I had to yesterday and today’ ahead of reopening. He wrote online: ‘Absolutely beyond comprehension I have been put in this position.’ The Government’s bid to get primary children back to school has been in tatters since Sunday night when it became clear that hundreds of headteachers were unable or unwilling to reopen.

Pressure had been growing since the publication last week of documents that showed Government scientific advisers warned before Christmas that schools would need to shut to reduce the R rate of Covid infection.

Last night Mr Johnson admitted that schools could be acting as ‘vectors for transmission’ – hours after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had announced similar closures for Scotland.

He said: ‘We have been doing everything in our power to keep schools open because we know how important each day in education is to children’s life chances.’

University students are also facing another extended spell of learning in their bedrooms rather than in lecture halls, with demands for tuition fee and accommodation refunds likely to soar as a result. 

With certain exceptions for courses such as medicine, undergraduates had already been told to stay away until January 25 ‘at the earliest’, but the campus ban will now also extend into next month.

The cancellation of the summer’s school exams will bring England into line with Wales and Scotland, which both decided to give up on the idea well before the current crisis.

Mr Johnson said it was ‘not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal’.

The Mail understands Education Secretary Gavin Williamson will now focus his attentions on ensuring schools provide quality online lessons as well as the rollout of the free laptop scheme.

Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, said the Government had been left with ‘no other option’ but to axe exams.

However, Labour’s schools spokesman, Wes Streeting, said the cancellation will ’cause additional anxiety for pupils and teachers’ as the Government has no ‘Plan B’ in place.

Former Tory education secretary Lord Baker told the Mail it was ‘essential’ that all school staff were vaccinated during the closure, and that in-school testing plans were strengthened.

In a rare positive, around 130,000 students expecting to take vocational exams this month will still be able to sit the papers.

Just last week, Mr Williamson told the Commons that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of primaries would be opening their doors on Monday. He said to MPs: ‘Children need to be in school, which is why we will always do everything we can to resist knee-jerk reactions to close schools or colleges.’

But the National Education Union had predicted a ‘snowball effect’ of teacher rebellion and said yesterday that staff at 6,000 primaries – around 35 per cent – had refused to work. Former Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt was one of the first MPs to break with the pro-schools consensus yesterday, declaring they needed to shut ‘right away’.

Miss Sturgeon ordered Scottish schools to stay shut until at least the start of February.

The Welsh government also said it would move to online learning until at least January 18.

Mary Bousted, of the National Education Union, said: ‘This is a crisis point for the nation and a great deal of what got us here should not simply be blamed on new strains of the virus.’

She insisted: ‘The Government has had eight months to prepare for a renewed period of remote learning and for alternatives to exam assessment at GCSE and A-level. But it has not used that time wisely or well.’


‘Since the pandemic began last year, the whole United Kingdom has been engaged in a great national effort to fight Covid.

‘And there is no doubt that in fighting the old variant of the virus, our collective efforts were working and would have continued to work.

‘But we now have a new variant of the virus. It has been both frustrating and alarming to see the speed with which the new variant is spreading.

‘Our scientists have confirmed this new variant is between 50% and 70% more transmissible – that means you are much, much more likely to catch the virus and to pass it on.

‘As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from Covid than at any time since the start of the pandemic.

‘In England alone, the number of Covid patients in hospitals has increased by nearly a third in the last week, to almost 27,000.

‘That number is 40% higher than the first peak in April. On 29 December, more than 80,000 people tested positive for Covid across the UK – a new record.

‘The number of deaths is up by 20% over the last week and will sadly rise further. My thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones.

‘With most of the country already under extreme measures, it is clear that we need to do more, together, to bring this new variant under control while our vaccines are rolled out.

‘In England, we must therefore go into a national lockdown which is tough enough to contain this variant.

‘That means the Government is once again instructing you to stay at home.

‘You may only leave home for limited reasons permitted in law, such as to shop for essentials, to work if you absolutely cannot work from home, to exercise, to seek medical assistance such as getting a Covid test, or to escape domestic abuse.

‘The full details on what you can and can’t do will be available at

‘If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, we are advising you to begin shielding again and you will shortly receive a letter about what this means for you.

‘And because we now have to do everything we possibly can to stop the spread of the disease, primary schools, secondary schools and colleges across England must move to remote provision from tomorrow, except for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.

‘Everyone will still be able to access early years settings such as nurseries.

‘We recognise that this will mean it is not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal. The Education Secretary will work with Ofqual to put in place alternative arrangements.

‘We will provide extra support to ensure that pupils entitled to free school meals will continue to receive them while schools are closed, and we’ll distribute more devices to support remote education.

‘I completely understand the inconvenience and distress this late change will cause millions of parents and pupils up and down the country.

‘Parents whose children were in school today may reasonably ask why we did not take this decision sooner.

‘The answer is simply that we have been doing everything in our power to keep schools open, because we know how important each day in education is to children’s life chances.

‘And I want to stress that the problem is not that schools are unsafe for children – children are still very unlikely to be severely affected by even the new variant of Covid.

‘The problem is that schools may nonetheless act as vectors for transmission, causing the virus to spread between households.

‘Today the United Kingdom’s chief medical officers have advised that the country should move to alert level 5, meaning that if action is not taken NHS capacity may be overwhelmed within 21 days.

‘Of course, there is one huge difference compared to last year. We are now rolling out the biggest vaccination programme in our history.

‘So far, we in the UK have vaccinated more people than the rest of Europe combined.

‘With the arrival today of the UK’s own Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, the pace of vaccination is accelerating.

‘I can share with you tonight the NHS’s realistic expectations for the vaccination programme in the coming weeks.

‘By the middle of February, if things go well and with a fair wind in our sails, we expect to have offered the first vaccine dose to everyone in the four top priority groups identified by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

‘That means vaccinating all residents in a care home for older adults and their carers, everyone over the age of 70, all frontline health and social care workers, and everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable.

‘If we succeed in vaccinating all those groups, we will have removed huge numbers of people from the path of the virus.

‘And of course, that will eventually enable us to lift many of the restrictions we have endured for so long.

‘I must stress that even if we achieve this goal, there remains a time lag of two to three weeks from getting a jab to receiving immunity.

‘And there will be a further time lag before the pressure on the NHS is lifted. So we should remain cautious about the timetable ahead.

‘But if our understanding of the virus doesn’t change dramatically once again…

‘If the rollout of the vaccine programme continues to be successful…

‘If deaths start to fall as the vaccine takes effect…

‘And, critically, if everyone plays their part by following the rules…

‘Then I hope we can steadily move out of lockdown, reopening schools after the February half-term and starting, cautiously, to move regions down the tiers.

‘I want to say to everyone right across the United Kingdom that I know how tough this is, I know how frustrated you are, I know that you have had more than enough of government guidance about defeating this virus.

‘But now more than ever, we must pull together.

‘You should follow the new rules from now, and they will become law in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Parliament will meet – largely remotely – later that day.

‘I know that the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland share my conviction this is a pivotal moment and they’re taking similar steps.

‘The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe that we are entering the last phase of the struggle.

‘Because with every jab that goes into our arms, we are tilting the odds against Covid and in favour of the British people.

‘And, thanks to the miracle of science, not only is the end in sight and we know exactly how we will get there.

‘But for now, I am afraid, you must once again stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

‘Thank you all very much.’



You must stay at home. The single most important action we can all take is to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.

You should follow this guidance immediately. The law will be updated to reflect these new rules.

Leaving home

You must not leave, or be outside of your home except where necessary. You may leave the home to:

  • shop for basic necessities, for you or a vulnerable person
  • go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home
  • exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, this should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.
  • meet your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, but only if you are legally permitted to form one
  • seek medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse)
  • attend education or childcare – for those eligible

Colleges, primary and secondary schools will remain open only for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. All other children will learn remotely until February half term. Early Years settings remain open.

Higher Education provision will remain online until mid February for all except future critical worker courses.

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.

If you are clinically extremely vulnerable you should only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential. You should not attend work

Meeting others

You cannot leave your home to meet socially with anyone you do not live with or are not in a support bubble with (if you are legally permitted to form one).

You may exercise on your own, with one other person, or with your household or support bubble.

You should not meet other people you do not live with, or have formed a support bubble with, unless for a permitted reason.

Stay 2 metres apart from anyone not in your household.

Detailed guidance on the national lockdown

Who this guidance is for

This guidance is for people who are fit and well. There is additional advice for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus and households with a possible or confirmed coronavirus infection. If you are clinically extremely vulnerable you should not attend work, school, college or university, and limit the time you spend outside the home. You should only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential.

Hands. Face. Space.

Approximately 1 in 3 people who have coronavirus have no symptoms and could be spreading it without realising it.

Remember – ‘Hands. Face. Space.’

  • hands – wash your hands regularly and for at least 20 seconds
  • face – wear a face covering in indoor settings where social distancing may be difficult, and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet
  • space – stay 2 metres apart from people you do not live with where possible, or 1 metre with extra precautions in place (such as wearing face coverings)

In all circumstances, you should follow the guidance on meeting others safely.

When you can leave home

You must not leave or be outside of your home except where you have a ‘reasonable excuse’. This will be put in law. The police can take action against you if you leave home without a ‘reasonable excuse’, and issue you with a fine (Fixed Penalty Notice).

You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.

A ‘reasonable excuse’ includes:

  • Work – you can only leave home for work purposes where it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home, including but not limited to people who work within critical national infrastructure, construction or manufacturing that require in-person attendance
  • Volunteering – you can also leave home to provide voluntary or charitable services.
  • Essential activities – you can leave home to buy things at shops or obtain services. You may also leave your home to do these things on behalf of a disabled or vulnerable person or someone self-isolating.
  • Education and childcare – You can only leave home for education, registered childcare, and supervised activities for children where they are eligible to attend. Access to education and children’s activities for school-aged pupils is restricted. See further information on education and childcare. People can continue existing arrangements for contact between parents and children where they live apart. This includes childcare bubbles.
  • Meeting others and care – You can leave home to visit people in your support bubble ( if you are legally permitted to form one), to provide informal childcare for children under 14 as part of a childcare bubble (for example, to enable parents to work, and not to enable social contact between adults), to provide care for disabled or vulnerable people, to provide emergency assistance, to attend a support group (of up to 15 people), or for respite care where that care is being provided to a vulnerable person or a person with a disability, or is a short break in respect of a looked-after child.
  • Exercise – You can continue to exercise alone, with one other person or with your household or support bubble. This should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.You should maintain social distancing. See exercising and meeting other people.
  • Medical reasons – You can leave home for a medical reason, including to get a COVID-19 test, for medical appointments and emergencies.
  • Harm and compassionate visits – you can leave home to be with someone who is giving birth, to avoid injury or illness or to escape risk of harm (such as domestic abuse). You can also leave home to visit someone who is dying or someone in a care home (if permitted under care home guidance), hospice, or hospital, or to accompany them to a medical appointment.
  • Animal welfare reasons – you can leave home for animal welfare reasons, such as to attend veterinary services for advice or treatment.
  • Communal worship and life events – You can leave home to attend or visit a place of worship for communal worship, a funeral or event related to a death, a burial ground or a remembrance garden, or to attend a wedding ceremony. You should follow the guidance on the safe use of places of worship and must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble when attending a place of worship.Weddings, funerals and religious, belief-based or commemorative events linked to someone’s death are all subject to limits on the numbers that can attend, and weddings and civil ceremonies may only take place in exceptional circumstances.

There are further reasonable excuses. For example, you may leave home to fulfil legal obligations or to carry out activities related to buying, selling, letting or renting a residential property, or where it is reasonably necessary for voting in an election or referendum.

Exercising and meeting other people

You should minimise time spent outside your home.

It is against the law to meet socially with family or friends unless they are part of your household or support bubble. 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). This should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.

You can exercise in a public outdoor place:

  • by yourself
  • with the people you live with
  • with your support bubble (if you are legally permitted to form one)
  • in a childcare bubble where providing childcare
  • or, when on your own, with 1 person from another household
  • Public outdoor places include:
  • parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests
  • public gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them)
  • the grounds of a heritage site
  • playgrounds

Outdoor sports venues, including tennis courts, golf courses and swimming pools, must close.

When around other people, stay 2 metres apart from anyone not in your household – meaning the people you live with – or your support bubble. Where this is not possible, stay 1 metre apart with extra precautions (e.g. wearing a face covering).

You must wear a face covering in many indoor settings, such as shops or places of worship where these remain open, and on public transport, unless you are exempt. This is the law. Read guidance on face coverings.

Support and childcare bubbles

You have to meet certain eligibility rules to form a support or childcare bubble. This means not everyone will be able to form a bubble.

A support bubble is a support network which links two households. You can form a support bubble with another household of any size only if you meet the eligibility rules.

It is against the law to form a support bubble if you do not follow these rules.

You are permitted to leave your home to visit your support bubble (and to stay overnight with them). However, if you form a support bubble, it is best if this is with a household who live locally. This will help prevent the virus spreading from an area where more people are infected.

If you live in a household with anyone aged under 14, you can form a childcare bubble. This allows friends or family from one other household to provide informal childcare.

You must not meet socially with your childcare bubble, and must avoid seeing members of your childcare and support bubbles at the same time.

There is separate guidance for support bubbles and childcare bubbles.

Where and when you can meet in larger groups

There are still circumstances in which you are allowed to meet others from outside your household, childcare or support bubble in larger groups, but this should not be for socialising and only for permitted purposes. A full list of these circumstances will be included in the regulations, and includes:

  • for work, or providing voluntary or charitable services, where it is unreasonable to do so from home. This can include work in other people’s homes where necessary – for example, for nannies, cleaners, social care workers providing support to children and families, or tradespeople. See guidance on working safely in other people’s homes). Where a work meeting does not need to take place in a private home or garden, it should not – for example, although you can meet a personal trainer, you should do so in a public outdoor place.
  • in a childcare bubble (for the purposes of childcare only)
  • Where eligible to use these services, for education, registered childcare, and supervised activities for children. Access to education and childcare facilities is restricted. See further information on education and childcare.
  • for arrangements where children do not live in the same household as both their parents or guardians
  • to allow contact between birth parents and children in care, as well as between siblings in care
  • for prospective adopting parents to meet a child or children who may be placed with them
  • to place or facilitate the placing of a child or children in the care of another by social services
  • for birth partners
  • to provide emergency assistance, and to avoid injury or illness, or to escape a risk of harm (including domestic abuse)
  • to see someone who is dying
  • to fulfil a legal obligation, such as attending court or jury service
  • for gatherings within criminal justice accommodation or immigration detention centres
  • to provide care or assistance to someone vulnerable, or to provide respite for a carer
  • for a wedding or equivalent ceremony in exceptional circumstances and only for up to 6 people
  • for funerals – up to a maximum of 30 people. Wakes and other linked ceremonial events can continue in a group of up to 6 people.
  • to visit someone at home who is dying, or to visit someone receiving treatment in a hospital, hospice or care home, or to accompany a family member or friend to a medical appointment
  • for elite sportspeople (and their coaches if necessary, or parents/guardians if they are under 18) – or those on an official elite sports pathway – to compete and train
  • to facilitate a house move

Support groups that have to be delivered in person can continue with up to 15 participants where formally organised to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support – but they must take place at a premises other than a private home.

Where a group includes someone covered by an exception (for example, someone who is working or volunteering), they are not generally counted as part of the gatherings limit. This means, for example, a tradesperson can go into a household without breaching the limit, if they are there for work, and the officiant at a wedding would not count towards the limit.

If you break the rules

The police can take action against you if you meet in larger groups. This includes breaking up illegal gatherings and issuing fines (fixed penalty notices).

You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400. If you hold, or are involved in holding, an illegal gathering of over 30 people, the police can issue fines of £10,000.

Protecting people more at risk from coronavirus

If you are clinically vulnerable, you could be at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus. There is additional advice for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus. Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable should not attend work, school, college or university, and limit the time you spend outside the home. You should only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential.


You must not leave your home unless you have a reasonable excuse (for example, for work or education purposes). If you need to travel you should stay local – meaning avoiding travelling outside of your village, town or the part of a city where you live – and look to reduce the number of journeys you make overall. The list of reasons you can leave your home and area include, but are not limited to:

  • work, where you cannot reasonably work from home
  • accessing education and for caring responsibilities
  • visiting those in your support bubble – or your childcare bubble for childcare
  • visiting hospital, GP and other medical appointments or visits where you have had an accident or are concerned about your health
  • buying goods or services that you need, but this should be within your local area wherever possible
  • 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)
  • attending the care and exercise of an animal, or veterinary services

If you need to travel, walk or cycle where possible, and plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes on public transport. This will allow you to practice social distancing while you travel.

Avoid car sharing with anyone from outside your household or your support bubble. See the guidance on car sharing.

If you need to use public transport, you should follow the safer travel guidance.

International travel

You can only travel internationally – or within the UK – where you first have a legally permitted reason to leave home. In addition, you should consider the public health advice in the country you are visiting.

If you do need to travel overseas (and are legally permitted to do so, for example, because it is for work), even if you are returning to a place you’ve visited before, you should look at the rules in place at your destination and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) travel advice.

UK residents currently abroad do not need to return home immediately. However, you should check with your airline or travel operator on arrangements for returning.

Foreign nationals are subject to the ‘Stay at Home’ regulations. You should not travel abroad unless it is permitted. This means you must not go on holiday.

If you are visiting the UK, you may return home. You should check whether there are any restrictions in place at your destination.

Staying away from home overnight

You cannot leave your home or the place where you are living for holidays or overnight stays unless you have a reasonable excuse for doing so. This means that holidays in the UK and abroad are not allowed.

This includes staying in a second home or caravan, if that is not your primary residence. This also includes staying with anyone who you don’t live with unless they’re in your support bubble.

You are allowed to stay overnight away from your home if you:

  • are visiting your support bubble
  • are unable to return to your main residence
  • need accommodation while moving house
  • need accommodation to attend a funeral or related commemorative event
  • require accommodation for work purposes or to provide voluntary services
  • are a child requiring accommodation for school or care
  • are homeless, seeking asylum, a vulnerable person seeking refuge, or if escaping harm (including domestic abuse)
  • are an elite athlete or their support staff or parent, if the athlete is under 18 and it is necessary to be outside of the home for training or competition

If you are already on holiday, you should return to your home as soon as practical.

Guest accommodation providers such as hotels, B&Bs and caravan parks may remain open for the specific reasons set out in law, including where guests are unable to return to their main residence, use that guest accommodation as their main residence, need accommodation while moving house, are self-isolating as required by law, or would otherwise be made homeless as a result of the accommodation closing. A full list of reasons can be found in the guidance on closing certain businesses and venues in England.

Accommodation providers are also encouraged to work cooperatively with local authorities to provide accommodation to vulnerable groups, including the homeless.

Going to work

You may only leave your home for work if you cannot reasonably work from home.

Where people cannot work from home – including, but not limited to, people who work in critical national infrastructure, construction, or manufacturing – they should continue to travel to their workplace. This is essential to keeping the country operating and supporting sectors and employers.

Public sector employees working in essential services, including childcare or education, should continue to go into work.

Where it is necessary for you to work in other people’s homes – for example, for nannies, cleaners or tradespeople – you can do so. Otherwise, you should avoid meeting for work in a private home or garden, where COVID-19 Secure measures may not be in place.

Employers and employees should discuss their working arrangements, and employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home, including providing suitable IT and equipment to enable remote working.

The risk of transmission can be substantially reduced if COVID-19 secure guidelines are followed closely. Extra consideration should be given to those people at higher risk.

Going to school, college and university

Colleges, primary (reception onwards) and secondary schools will remain open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. All other children will learn remotely until February half term.

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.

Public exams and vocational assessments scheduled to take place in January will go ahead as planned.


Those students who are undertaking training and study for the following courses should return to face to face learning as planned and be tested twice, upon arrival or self-isolate for ten days:

  • Medicine & dentistry
  • Subjects allied to medicine/health
  • Veterinary science
  • Education (initial teacher training)
  • Social work
  • Courses which require Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) assessments and or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and which cannot be rescheduled (your university will notify you if this applies to you).

Students who do not study these courses should remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online, as facilitated by their university until at least Mid-February. This includes students on other practical courses not on the list above.

We have previously published guidance to universities and students on how students can return safely to higher education in the spring term. This guidance sets out how we will support higher education providers to enable students that need to return to do so as safely as possible following the winter break.

If you live at university, you should not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time.

For those students who are eligible for face to face teaching, you can meet in groups of more than your household as part of your formal education or training, where necessary. Students should expect to follow the guidance and restrictions. You should socially distance from anyone you do not live with wherever possible.


There are several ways that parents and carers can continue to access childcare:

  • Early Years settings (including nurseries and childminders) remain open
  • Vulnerable children and children of critical workers can continue to use registered childcare, childminders and other childcare activities (including wraparound care)
  • parents are able to form a childcare bubble with one other household for the purposes of informal childcare, where the child is under 14. This is mainly to enable parents to work, and must not be used to enable social contact between adults
  • some households will also be able to benefit from being in a support bubble
  • nannies will be able to continue to provide services, including in the home

Care home visits

Visits to care homes can take place with arrangements such as substantial screens, visiting pods, or behind windows. Close-contact indoor visits are not allowed. No visits will be permitted in the event of an outbreak.

You should check the guidance on visiting care homes during COVID-19 to find out how visits should be conducted. Residents cannot meet people indoors on a visit out (for example, to visit their relatives in the family home). There is separate guidance for those in supported living.

Weddings, civil partnerships, religious services and funerals

Weddings, civil partnership ceremonies and funerals are allowed with strict limits on attendance, and must only take place in COVID-19 secure venues or in public outdoor spaces unless in exceptional circumstances.

Funerals can be attended by a maximum of 30 people. Linked religious, belief-based or commemorative events, such as stone settings and ash scatterings can also continue with up to 6 people in attendance. Anyone working is not counted in these limits. Social distancing should be maintained between people who do not live together or share a support bubble.

Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies must only take place with up to 6 people. Anyone working is not included. These should only take place in exceptional circumstances, for example, an urgent marriage where one of those getting married is seriously ill and not expected to recover, or is to undergo debilitating treatment or life-changing surgery.

Places of worship

You can attend places of worship for a service. However, you must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble. You should maintain strict social distancing at all times.

You should follow the national guidance on the safe use of places of worship.

Sports and physical activity

Indoor gyms and sports facilities will remain closed. Outdoor sports courts, outdoor gyms, golf courses, outdoor swimming pools, archery/driving/shooting ranges and riding arenas must also close. Organised outdoor sport for disabled people is allowed to continue.

Moving home

You can still move home. People outside your household or support bubble should not help with moving house unless absolutely necessary.

Estate and letting agents and removals firms can continue to work. If you are looking to move, you can go to property viewings.

Follow the national guidance on moving home safely, which includes advice on social distancing, letting fresh air in, and wearing a face covering.

Financial support

Wherever you live, you may be able to get financial help  

Businesses and venues

Businesses and venues which must close

To reduce social contact, the regulations require some businesses to close and impose restrictions on how some businesses provide goods and services. The full list of businesses required to close can be found in the guidance on closing certain businesses and venues in England, but includes:

  • non-essential retail, such as clothing and homeware stores, vehicle showrooms (other than for rental), betting shops, tailors, tobacco and vape shops, electronic goods and mobile phone shops, auction houses (except for auctions of livestock or agricultural equipment) and market stalls selling non-essential goods. These venues can continue to be able to operate click-and-collect (where goods are pre-ordered and collected off the premises) and delivery services.
  • hospitality venues such as cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars and social clubs; with the exception of providing food and non-alcoholic drinks for takeaway (until 11pm), click-and-collect and drive-through. All food and drink (including alcohol) can continue to be provided by delivery.
  • accommodation such as hotels, hostels, guest houses and campsites, except for specific circumstances, such as where these act as someone’s main residence, where the person cannot return home, for providing accommodation or support to the homeless, or where it is essential to stay there for work purposes
  • leisure and sports facilities such as leisure centres and gyms, swimming pools, sports courts,fitness and dance studios, riding arenas at riding centres, climbing walls, and golf courses.
  • entertainment venues such as theatres, concert halls, cinemas, museums and galleries, casinos, amusement arcades, bingo halls, bowling alleys, skating rinks, go-karting venues, indoor play and soft play centres and areas (including inflatable parks and trampolining centres), circuses, fairgrounds, funfairs, water parks and theme parks
  • animal attractions (such as zoos, safari parks, aquariums, and wildlife reserves)
  • indoor attractions at venues such as botanical gardens, heritage homes and landmarks must also close, though outdoor grounds of these premises can stay open for outdoor exercise.
  • personal care facilities such as hair, beauty, tanning and nail salons. Tattoo parlours, spas, massage parlours, body and skin piercing services must also close. These services should not be provided in other people’s homes
  • community centres and halls must close except for a limited number of exempt activities, as set out below. Libraries can also remain open to provide access to IT and digital services – for example for people who do not have it at home – and for click-and-collect services

Some of these businesses and places will also be permitted to be open for a small number of exempt activities. A full list of exemptions can be found in the guidance on closing certain businesses and venues in England, but includes:

  • education and training – for schools to use sports, leisure and community facilities where that is part of their normal provision
  • childcare purposes and supervised activities for those children eligible to attend
  • hosting blood donation sessions and food banks
  • to provide medical treatment
  • for elite sports persons to train and compete (in indoor and outdoor sports facilities), and professional dancers and choreographers to work (in fitness and dance studios)
  • for training and rehearsal without an audience (in theatres and concert halls)
  • for the purposes of film and TV filming

Businesses and venues which can remain open

Other businesses and venues are permitted to stay open, following COVID-19 secure guidelines. Businesses providing essential goods and services can stay open. The full list of these businesses can be found in the guidance on closing certain businesses and venues in England, but includes:

  • essential retail such as food shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, garden centres, building merchants and suppliers of building products and off-licences
  • market stalls selling essential retail may also stay open
  • businesses providing repair services may also stay open, where they primarily offer repair services
  • petrol stations, automatic (but not manual) car washes, vehicle repair and MOT services, bicycle shops, and taxi and vehicle hire businesses
  • banks, building societies, post offices, short-term loan providers and money transfer businesses
  • funeral directors
  • laundrettes and dry cleaners
  • medical and dental services
  • vets and retailers of products and food for the upkeep and welfare of animals
  • animal rescue centres, boarding facilities and animal groomers (may continue to be used for animal welfare, rather than aesthetic purposes)
  • agricultural supplies shops
  • mobility and disability support shops
  • storage and distribution facilities
  • car parks, public toilets and motorway service areas
  • outdoor playgrounds
  • outdoor parts of botanical gardens and heritage sites for exercise
  • places of worship
  • crematoriums and burial grounds

Public services

The majority of public services will continue and you will be able to leave home to visit them. These include:

  • the NHS and medical services like GPs and dentists. We are supporting the NHS to carry out urgent and non-urgent services safely, and it is vital anyone who thinks they need any kind of medical care comes forward and seeks help
  • Jobcentre Plus sites
  • courts and probation services
  • civil registrations offices
  • passport and visa services
  • services provided to victims
  • waste or recycling centres
  • getting an MOT, if you need to drive when lawfully leaving home

What do the new lockdown rules mean for you? Schools and universities closed, the vulnerable told to shield, next summer’s exams cancelled or under threat and pubs are barred from selling take-away alcohol 

Boris Johnson tonight plunged England into a new lockdown as he set out emergency measures to control the spread of new strains of coronavirus amid concerns the NHS risks being overwhelmed.

Schools, shops and sports venues will close their doors for six weeks from early on Wednesday in scenes not witnessed since the original lockdown last March, with exercise pretty much the only reason to regularly leave home.

The Prime Minister’s address from 10 Downing Street came after Nicola Sturgeon plunged Scotland into a new lockdown there from midnight tonight.

Wales has been in lockdown since before Christmas, and Northern Ireland’s executive is due to announce its own measures when it meets tomorrow.  

The latest figures showed a further 407 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday and there were a record 58,784 more lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK. 

So what are the new rules for Covid-hit Britain? 

Schools, shops and sports venues will close their doors for six weeks in scenes not witnessed since the original lockdown last March. Only exercise and essentials shopping will be allowed

The Prime Minister’s address from 10 Downing Street came after Nicola Sturgeon plunged Scotland into a new lockdown there from midnight tonight


England will be put into a full national lockdown that will last until the February half term.

All primary and secondary schools will close with immediate effect, remaining open only for vulnerable pupils and the children of key workers. The plan is for them to reopen after the February half-term break.

A-Level and GCSE exams are unlikely to go ahead as planned in the summer, with Mr Johnson saying: ‘We recognise that this will mean it is not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal.’

Universities will also remain closed to students until mid-February.

Nurseries will remain fully open. 

The public should stay at home unless they need to leave for one of just five reasons: 

  • Work, if it cannot be done from home, such as construction and key public functions.
  • Shopping for necessities like food and medicine.
  • Exercise, ideally no more than once a day. You can exercise with anyone in your support bubble, or one other person, with social distancing.
  • To give care to someone else.
  • For urgent or pre-arranged medical care, or fleeing an emergency.

All non-essential retailers, hospitality and ‘personal care’ like hairdressers must close if they have not yet done so under the tier system.

Restaurants and other eateries can continue to operate for takeaways and deliveries. 

But pubs will no longer be allowed to offer take-away alcohol sales, because of the number of people gathering outside to drink.

The lockdown will see more than 550,000 business closures in England, according to real estate adviser Altus Group.

The company said this included 401,690 non-essential shops, 64,537 pubs or restaurants, 20,703 personal care facilities and 7,051 gyms or leisure centres.

It added that 21,119 local council schools as well as 2,645 private schools will also have to close in England.

Children’s playgrounds will remain open. 

All indoor and outdoor sports venues, including golf courses and tennis courts, must close, and team sports cannot take place, even outdoors. 

Elite sports like the premier league can go on under their own schemes.

Exercise is one of the few reasons people will regularly leave the house across Britain, along with shopping for necessities.

PE lessons for those children still in school are allowed.

People who are extremely critically vulnerable (ECV) should stay at home even if they cannot work.

They can leave to get necessities like food and medicine but they should avoid busy areas.


Scotland will be plunged back into a national coronavirus lockdown from midnight this evening, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The SNP leader said the new crackdown, lasting all of January, will include a legally enforceable stay-at-home rule.

Exercise and essential journeys will be the only reasons why people will be allowed to leave their homes.

The planned reopening of schools on January 18 is also being pushed back to February 1 at the earliest while workers are being instructed to work from home wherever possible.

Rules on outdoor gatherings will be tightened to allow a maximum of just two people from two households to meet.

Pubs across the UK will remain closed and in England, those that were allowed to sell takeaway drinks will not be allowed to, because of fears over people congregating outside

Meanwhile, places of worship will be closed from this Friday but weddings and funerals will still be allowed to go ahead.

A maximum of 20 people will be allowed to attend funeral services and a maximum of five people will be allowed to attend weddings.

Ms Sturgeon said the tough new curbs are necessary because of the ‘steeply rising’ rate of infections north of the border as she warned the lockdown could be extended beyond January if necessary.

The measures effectively mean a return to the restrictions seen during the first UK-wide lockdown which was imposed at the end of March last year.

All of mainland Scotland is already placed in the highest tier of Covid-19 rules but case numbers have prompted Ms Sturgeon to take more drastic action after 2,464 new cases were announced yesterday.

Schools in England will close immediately, joining those in Wales and Scotland. The latter two nations have already cancelled this summer’s exams and it may also happen in England, with plans yet to be confirmed.

Setting out the measures to come into force from Tuesday, the First Minister told MSPs in Holyrood: ‘It is no exaggeration to say that I am more concerned about the situation we face now than I have been at any time since March last year.’

Senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove was understood to be discussing restrictions with the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in a call ahead of Mr Johnson’s statement.

The latest data show a 41 per cent rise in the number of confirmed coronavirus patients in hospital in England between Christmas Day and January 3, figures which have caused alarm in Whitehall and the health service.

The 2021 Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers exams had already been cancelled. 


Wales has been under a full lockdown since December 20. 

The restrictions mean non-essential shops, gyms and hospitality venues must stay closed.

After three weeks the rules will be reviewed. 

The current rules mean non-essential retailers, hospitality services and close contact services such as hairdressers must close. 

Only essential travel is permitted, and working from home must take place ‘wherever possible’.

Two households can form a support bubble, permitted to meet in private gardens or indoors on Christmas Day only. 

House parties, gatherings and events are banned, and schools should use online learning. 

A single person household will be permitted to join with one other household throughout the level four restrictions.  

Schools and colleges across Wales will move to online learning until January 18, the country’s education minister said today.

Kirsty Williams said the Welsh Government would use the next two weeks to work with local authorities and education settings to ‘best plan for the rest of the term’.

The government had previously arranged for schools to have flexibility over the first two weeks of the spring term, allowing them to choose when students would return to in-person learning.

Universities in Wales are due to begin a staggered start to term and students should not return for face-to-face learning unless notified that they can do so, she added.

Exams in Wales due to be held in the summer had already been cancelled. 

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