This post is updated regularly to reflect the latest news and science around the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, in the UK.
The government has announced its plan to begin to ease lockdown rules and open shops, bars, and other public spaces later in the summer. While restrictions are easing, the pandemic is still very much ongoing and it can be hard to keep track of the most up-to-date information. Here’s our resource to help you stay informed about what's happening with coronavirus in the UK.
People have become accustomed to watching the governments daily updates and using terms like the “R rate.” The R rate is defined as the reproduction number or the average number of secondary infections that one infected person will produce. So if the R rate is one it means that every infected person will on average infect just one other person. If the R rate is greater than one then it means the pandemic is growing. Currently, the R rate is between 0.7-0.9. On July 7, there were 155 COVID-19 related deaths. The total number of deaths in the UK since the pandemic began sits at 44,391.
For the last three months people have adapted to social distancing rules and only going out when strictly necessary. Some of the most vulnerable have shielding in their homes since mid March. However, new government guidance means the COVID-19 lockdown rules are beginning to be eased. So here’s how things currently stand:
What Does Lockdown Look Like Now?
The UK entered a nation-wide lockdown on March 24, 2020. This meant the shutting down of non-essential businesses and most of the hospitality industry, people were also asked to stay at home under most circumstances.
Lockdown rules began to be eased on May 10. People who are not considered vulnerable were told they could meet up with one person from another household so long as they remained two meters apart. On May 31 it was announced that vulnerable people who had been shielding could leave the house. Then, on June 1 the government said people could meet up with up to six other people in an outdoor space so long as they remained socially distant. This expanded further on June 13, as the government announced that people living alone or single parents with children under 18 could create a "social bubble" with one other household. Those who are considered "extremely clinically vulnerable," however, are not able to form social bubbles or meet up with more than one another person from outside their household. This should be done outdoors and ideally with the same person each time. While outdoors they must maintain a two-metre distance at all times.
After nearly three months of being closed, non-essential shops were allowed to re-open on June 15, so long as they followed strict guidance of social distancing and completed a risk assessment in consultation with trade union representatives or workers.
Facial coverings have been obligatory on public transport since June 15. It’s been reported that more than 3,000 extra staff including police officers are being deployed at stations to make sure people comply and if passengers are caught without a mask or covering they’ll be asked to wear one and if not they’ll be fined £100.
Mostly recently, on June 23 Boris Johnson outlined further changes to lockdown, which included the announcement that from July 4 pubs, restaurants, and hairdressers will be allowed to re-open, provided they adhere to COVID-19 guidelines. Johnson also said two households can now meet up indoors while adhering to social distancing and that people can go on holidays in England.
The changes also applied to other places where social distancing is possible, such as outdoor gyms, cinemas, museums, and theme parks. However, nightclubs, indoor gyms, swimming pools, and spas will remain closed as they’re deemed “close proximity” venues.
The two meter social distancing rule has been revised and Johnson has introduced a “one meter plus” guideline. This means that when you’re out in public spaces with people from other households and it isn’t possible to stay two meters apart, the guidance says standing one meter apart is allowed provided you’re taking other precautions to protect yourself. This includes wearing a mask.
A study published in medical journal The Lancet, looked at research into how distance can affect the spread of COVID-19. It found that the risk of being infected is thought to be 13% you are one metre apart but if you're further away than that, the risk could be at least 10% lower.
The rate at which lockdown is being eased differs across England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
The two meter distancing rule remains in place in Wales. Pubs, restaurants, and cafes will remain closed and people from different households in Wales still can’t meet indoors. It’s been announced that from July 13, B&Bs and hotels will be able to reopen, as well as hairdressers and barbers. The ‘stay local' five mile rule currently in place is predicted to be lifted on July 6.
The First Minister for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon announced that the five mile travel limit will be lifted on July 3 and beer gardens will be open from July 6. Museums, galleries, cinemas, hairdressers, and holiday accommodation will be allowed to open from July 15 but the Scottish government is still reviewing the two meter social distance rule.
In Northern Ireland the two meter social distancing rule remains. Bars, restaurants, holiday accommodation, and cafes can reopen from July 3. From July 6, shielders will be able to meet up to five other people outside and hairdressers, barbers, and beauty salons can reopen, maintaining social distancing.
On July 7, the World Health Organization said that there was evidence emerging that suggests COVID-19 could be spread through the air. An open letter signed by over 200 scientists criticised the organisation for underestimating the fact that the pandemic could be airborne. If this is the case then it could mean guidelines for indoor spaces will change.
What Does The Economy Look Like Now?
According to research published in the Guardian, the British economy will shrink by 8% this year and is unlikely to recover until 2023. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has predicted the UK economy would shrink by more than any other developed country.
The government announced that, as of June 2020, 8.9 million workers are now covered by the furlough scheme. Brought in on March 20, the job retention scheme allowed businesses to furlough workers and the government would cover 80% of their wage up to £2,500. Companies will be able to keep their workers on furlough until the end of October but from August companies will have to start “sharing the cost.” At the start of June the cost of the scheme was valued at £19.6 billion.
For self-employed people the government launched the Self Employed Income Support Scheme on March 26. This allowed certain freelancers to apply for a grant worth up to £2,500 a month. The Scheme closed on May 31 but on May 29 the chancellor announced a three month extension, paying up to 70% of freelancers wages. Meanwhile, the next self-assessment tax bill has been deferred until January 2021.
For those who have been made redundant, Rishi Sunak said that Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit would be raised by £1,000 a year in an attempt to support them. Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the number of workers on UK payrolls dropped by more than 600,000 between March and May. While this isn’t representative of everyone who has lost their job, the number of people claiming work-related benefits jumped 23% in May to hit 2.8 million.
The government has also introduced support for landlords and renters via local councils.
On July 8, Sunak released new plans going forward. He outlined that the Job Retention Scheme would end in October but the government would pay firms a £1,000 bonus for every staff member kept on for three months when the furlough scheme ends. It’s been reported that if every furloughed worker is brought back, the new bonus scheme could cost £9.4 billion. Similarly, he announced that VAT on accommodation, attractions, and food would be cut to 5% from July 15 and “kickstart scheme” for people aged 16 to 24 on Universal Credit to fund work placements.
The government has also introduced support for landlords and renters via local councils and has called for a temporary stamp duty holiday which would exempt the first £500,000 of all property sales from the tax.
What Does The NHS Look Like Now?
Since the beginning of the pandemic medical staff and people who work in the NHS have warned that there’s massive shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE.) According to a study released in May 2020, almost half of doctors in England were having to source their own PPE or rely on donations. The British Medical Association said their study of 16,000 doctors shows there’s room for improvement protecting frontline workers. Similarly, a survey by the Doctors Association UK has found that six in 10 doctors are facing scrubs shortages.
Shortages in PPE have also affected care workers, police officers, waste collection workers, and transport staff. In April the BBC reported that the Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers Union (RMT) said that members who were not given the necessary protective equipment must refuse to work, the BBC reports.
Frontline staff from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME) are disproportionately being affected by COVID 19. A report from Public Health England in early June found that people from BAME backgrounds are up to twice as likely to die from COVID-19. The British Medical Association said it was "critical" to carry out risk assessments of vulnerable groups and protect them at work. They said racism could contribute to increased risks. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, who chairs the council of the British Medical Association, told the BBC that more than 90% of doctors who had died during the pandemic were from BAME backgrounds and doctors from these communities were also three times as likely to say they had felt pressured to work without sufficient protective equipment.
Does The UK Have A Vaccine For Coronavirus?
Scientists are working around the globe to produce a vaccine but there isn’t one currently available. A group of scientists at the University of Oxford are working on a vaccine and they’ve reportedly tested 10,000 volunteers, including individuals over 70 and those who are vulnerable in other ways. The drugs company AstraZeneca has said it could produce the vaccine on mass when it’s ready but some experts have said that could take many months.
What Is The UK's Strategy For Track & Trace?
One way the government has been seeking to measure and control the spread of infections is through an NHS track and trace app. After issues with an initial Android app, the government has opted to go with a test and trace app created by Apple and Google that will work on both Android and Apple devices. The companies are working on the software for the app which will log phones that come into close contact, allow people to fill in symptoms and positive diagnoses, and alert anyone who has been in close proximity to them. While this isn’t available yet, an Exposure Notification API was added in recent uploads to phone systems, but users have to make the explicit decision to turn it on. And when the app is ready, the NHS assure members of the public that it will be "entirely voluntary and people have the choice of whether or not to download the app."
As of July you can apply to be tested for COVID-19. They’re being carried out in locations across the country. However, it’s been reported that official figures show almost three quarters of tests that have been sent out to care homes and individuals haven’t been sent back. Officials have instead said care homes have been stockpiling tests in case there were needed.
Contributions from Alice Broster.
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If you or someone you’ve been in close contact with appears to have shown or be showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, visit the NHS website in the UK to find out the next steps you should take or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources.