This post is updated regularly to reflect the latest news and science around the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, in the UK.
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 government’s 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 0.8 and 0.9 in the UK as a whole, and between 0.8 and 1.0 for England. On August 3, there were 8 COVID-19-related deaths. The total number of deaths in the UK since the pandemic began sits at just over 46,200, as of August 3.
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 been 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.
People in England are now able to meet up to six other people in an outdoor space so long as they remain socially distant. People living alone or single parents with children under 18 can 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 other person from outside their household. This should instead be done outdoors and ideally with the same person each time. While outdoors they must maintain a two-metre distance at all times.
The two metre social distancing rule had previously been revised and Johnson 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, which includes wearing a mask.
Non-essential shops were allowed to re-open on June 15, with social distancing and increased hygiene measures in place.
Facial coverings have been obligatory on public transport since June 15, which was expanded to include other enclosed spaces in late July like supermarkets, post offices, and banks. From August 8, face coverings must also be worn in social settings such as indoor entertainment venues, places of worship, libraries, and community centres. Those caught without a mask or covering will be asked to wear one and if not they’ll be fined £100.
On July 9 the government announced that beauty salons, tattooists and tanning salons would reopen from July 13, and gyms, indoor swimming pools and leisure centres on July 25. However, on July 31 the Prime Minister announced that further lockdown easing which had been planned for August 1 would be postponed for at least a fortnight. It includes a delay in reopening close-contact services including any treatments on the face, such as eyebrow waxing or threading.
Some venues that were due to open on August 1 will now not be able to do so until at least 15 August, the PM announced on July 31. These include bowling alleys, skating rinks and casinos. Weddings which were due to go ahead with up to 30 guests will no longer be able to.
The PM has insisted that the delay in easing of some regulations is not a "return to lockdown", but that there are "trade-offs" to be made. Johnson added that getting children back to school at the start of next term "should be a national priority".
Throughout the easing of lockdown restrictions the government has said that they will not hesitate to reintroduce regulations and implement local lockdowns. One such targeted lockdown is taking place in Leicester, where restrictions including the closure of non-essential shops and schools for most pupils were reintroduced at the end of June following a spike in Covid-19 cases in the region.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on July 30 that a reintroduction of lockdown rules would also be made in parts of northern England. Millions of people in Greater Manchester, east Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire are now facing new lockdown restrictions which ban separate households from meeting each other at home after a spike in Covid-19 cases.
The new lockdown rules, which came into force at midnight on Thursday July 30, mean people from different households will no longer be allowed to meet in homes or private gardens. Pubs and restaurants, however, remain open. But the new restrictions do prevent the mixing of people from two different households in pubs and restaurants.
The same restrictions will continue to apply in Leicester, however pubs, restaurants, cinemas and museums will be allowed to reopen in the city from August 3, religious ceremonies will also be able to take place, as some of the stricter measures are lifted. The borough of Oadby and Wigston on the outskirts of Leicester have been taken out of local lockdown completely.
The two metre distancing rule remains in place in Wales, however people have been able to meet outdoors at pubs and cafes since July 13. Cinemas, beauty salons and tattoo parlours reopened on July 27, and indoor pubs, restaurants and cafes will be able to open from Monday August 3, along with indoor bowling alleys, auction houses and bingo halls providing social distancing is adhered to. Wedding venues will also be allowed to reopen from August 3, but any receptions will need to be held outdoors. The ‘stay local' five mile rule was lifted on July 6.
From August 10, swimming pools, gyms, leisure centres and indoor play areas, including soft play, can reopen and up to 30 people can meet outdoors with children under 11 not having to social distance. First Minister Mark Drakeford said the new guidance for children was because of their lower rates of transmission. Campsites and other accommodation with shared facilities reopened from 25 July, as well as “self-contained” accommodation including separate areas at B&Bs and hotels across Wales.
Scotland has been the most strict nation in the UK in regards to easing of restrictions and lockdown rules. In June, the First Minister for Scotland Nicola Sturgeon began lockdown easing much later than Boris Johnson did so in the UK. People in Scotland can now travel more than five miles travel and visit pubs with beer gardens. People from two different households can now also meet up and stay overnight.
As of August 1, as in England, shielding has been paused, and those in the high risk category will be able to follow the same advice as the rest of the public. Schools are scheduled to reopen from August 11, some with a phased return plan, and from August 24 Sturgeon plans to reopen bingo halls, amusement arcades, casinos, funfairs and snooker halls. Gyms, swimming pools and indoor sports courts along with indoor soft play centres, theatres and indoor live music venues are currently set to reopen on 14 September, however, Sturgeon said the decision would be reviewed on August 20 to see if the date could be brought forward.
In Northern Ireland, the two meter social distancing rule remains. Bars, restaurants, holiday accommodation, and cafes reopened on July 3. On July 6, hairdressers, barbers, and beauty salons reopened, maintaining social distancing and cinemas, bingo halls, and amusement arcades reopened on July 10. Libraries reopened from July 16. Groups of up to 10 people from four different households can also now meet indoors.
What's Happening With Travel To & From The UK?
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.
From July 10, people travelling from more than 50 countries including France, Germany, and Italy will no longer have to quarantine for two weeks when they enter England. However, quarantine restrictions have been reintroduced for those returning from certain countries, including Luxembourg and a country-wide blanket quarantine on the whole of Spain and its islands, due to concerns of a second wave hitting Europe.
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.
As of July 2020, 9.5 million workers are now covered by the furlough scheme per BBC News. 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.
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 are 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. Similarly, trials are being run at Imperial College London. As of July 7, 300 people had been screened for the trial and first doses have been administered to 15 trial volunteers.
On July 30, the government announced that an agreement with drugs companies GSK and Sanofi Pasteur will result in 60 million doses of their vaccine will be supplied to the UK.
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, Orla Pentelow, and Sophie McEvoy.
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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.