Local Lockdown: England’s Uneven Path To Easing Coronavirus Restrictions

Local Lockdown: England’s Uneven Path To Easing Coronavirus Restrictions

By Jack Beadsworth, Volunteer Writer, Aaron Walawalkar, News and Digital Editor 30 Jun 2020
Credit: Pexels

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The UK government has introduced its first “local lockdown,” days before coronavirus restrictions in England were due to be further eased. As pubs, restaurants and hairdressers across much of the country prepare to re-open from 4 July, Leicester will endure stricter measures for at least another two weeks.

Health secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on Monday that schools in Leicester will shut for most children and some shops will be forced to close amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

“Unfortunately, while cases in most parts of the country have fallen since the peak, in Leicester they have continued to rise,” Hancock said.

“Having taken clinical advice on the actions necessary, and discussed them with the local team in Leicester and Leicestershire, we have made some difficult but important decisions.”

All non-essential shops in Leicester must close from Tuesday, while schools will close on Thursday, except to children of key workers.

The government’s plan to relax its shielding guidance for “clinically extremely vulnerable” people from 6 July will also not apply to Leicester.

“We recommend to people in Leicester, stay at home as much as you can and we recommend against all but essential travel to, from and within Leicester,” Hancock added.

These measures will be reviewed every two weeks. This means that the more than 300,000 people who live in the city, and in neighbouring towns, must wait as the rest of England enjoys new freedoms from Saturday.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock

Health secretary Matt Hancock. Credit: YouTube

Prime minister Boris Johnson announced the further easing of lockdown in England last Tuesday, a little more than a month after he outlined the “first sketch of a roadmap” for gradually lifting restrictions brought in on 26 March.

Some non-essential shops, nurseries and schools were among the first sections of society to be partially re-opened last month.

From Saturday 4 July, businesses in the hospitality industry – including pubs and restaurants – will be also allowed to reopen provided they adhere to “Covid Secure guidelines”.

Some leisure facilities and tourist attractions – including museums, cinemas and outdoor gyms – may also reopen “provided they can do so safely,” according to a statement.

People from two households will also be able to meet up in any setting, but are advised to continue to adhere to physical distancing to avoid spreading the virus. The guidance on physical distancing is still to stay two-metres apart but, in situations where this is not possible, it is advised to stay at least one-metre apart but take mitigating measures such as wearing a mask.

The easing of the lockdown comes amid warnings that moving too quickly could result in a resurgence of the virus. Unions and politicians, among others, continue to express concern as to what protections are in place to prevent workers contracting Covid-19 and triggering a “second wave” of the virus.

Since March, EachOther has put together a timeline of the nation’s journey from liberty to lockdown since the coronavirus outbreak. Here we trace England’s uneven path to easing lockdown.

7 May 2020

The first major trial of the NHS’ Covid-19 contact-tracing app gets underway in the Isle of Wight. The app had previously been hailed as key to lifting the coronavirus lockdown by the Times. But questions remain around its efficacy and the lawfulness of its interference in our right to privacy.

Contact tracing is a well-established method of outbreak control. When done by humans, it involves an infected person telling an interviewer where they have been and who they have been in contact with. Public health officials can then ask those who potentially have the virus to get tested or self-isolate. It is vital with Covid-19, as it is a highly contagious virus.

The majority of newspaper headlines focus on the possibility of lockdown measures being eased from Monday 11 May.

The government and papers are accused of confused messaging and encouraging the public to breach the official advice to stay home and stop the spread of the virus.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab later clarifies that any changes to the coronavirus lockdown will be “modest” at the daily Downing Street briefing on the coronavirus crisis.

10 May

PM Boris Johnson sets out a three-step “conditional” plan to begin easing lockdown restrictions.

In step one, Johnson says that those who cannot work from home, such as construction workers, “should be actively encouraged to go to work” from Monday.

He recommends that workers commute by car, foot or bike but added that public transport operators will be following “Covid-secure” standards and that guidance is being drafted for employers to make workplaces Covid-secure.

He also encourages the public to take “more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise” from Wednesday, while continuing to maintain physical distancing. Fines will be increased for those who flout physical distancing rules, he adds.

In step two, the government hopes that by 1 June it may be able to begin the phased reopening of shops as well as partially reopening primary schools – starting with reception, Year 1 and Year 6.

In step three, Johnson hopes that “at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places,” will be able to reopen by July at the earliest.

He stresses that these steps would be conditional on the public’s continued adherence to social distancing guidance and the prevention of any future resurgence of the outbreak.

Johnson also confirms that quarantine measures will be imposed to anyone coming into the country by air.

Trade unions respond by telling the PM that there should be no return to work until they feel safe.

Local Lockdown: England's Path To Easing Coronavirus Restrictions

Boris Johnson delivers an address to the nation on the coronavirus lockdown restrictions

11 May

The Police Federation for England and Wales warns that the police need clearer guidance on how to enforce the lockdown measures to prevent their job from becoming impossible.

The legal basis for the police’s powers to enforce England’s lockdown is Health Protection Regulations, which came into effect on 26 March. Officers have been accused of overzealous and inconsistent use of these powers.

John Apter, chairman of the Federation, stated that police work “must be based on crystal clear guidance, not loose rules that are left open to interpretation – because that will be grossly unfair on officers whose job is already challenging”.

Teaching unions describe the government’s plans to reopen schools to some pupils on 1 June as “reckless” amid concerns teachers and children may catch and spread the virus.

Article 1 of Protocol 2 to the ECHR protects children from being denied education, but this right is not absolute and can be interfered with to protect the health of children and teachers.

Where this occurs, the state has an obligation to balance the importance of educating children with the need to protect pupils and teachers from infectious diseases.

13 May

An amended version of the law governing the lockdown restrictions in England comes into effect.

The relevant law, known as the Health Protection Regulations, was introduced in March and made it illegal to:

  • Leave or be outside the place where you live “without reasonable excuse”
  • Be in a public gathering of more than two people

This does not change. But what does change is the list of exemptions and the amount people in England can be fined if they are found in breach – which increases from £60 to £100.

To confuse matters somewhat, EnglandWalesScotland and Northern Ireland each have their own version of these health regulations. They initially shared broad similarities but are now growing increasingly different.

The amended law allows for the re-opening of garden centres, sports courts and recycling centres in England.

In addition to outdoor exercise, open-air recreation is also permitted with no more than one member of another household.

Local Lockdown: England's Path To Easing Coronavirus Restrictions

People were given more freedom to exercise in May. Credit: Unsplash

15 May

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) publishes the findings of a review into all charges brought under the Coronavirus Act and Health Protection Regulations.

It is revealed that 56 of the 231 police charges brought under these two pieces of coronavirus legislation were incorrect.

CPS Director of Legal Services, Gregor McGill, says: “Where mistakes were made, it was usually because Welsh regulations were used in England, or vice versa.”

He added: “Under the [Coronavirus] Act, all 44 charges were incorrect because they did not cover potentially infectious people, which is what the legislation is intended for.”

The Coronavirus Act, passed on 25 March, has granted the government “unprecedented” powers. This includes enabling the police, immigration officers and health officials powers to detain “potentially infectious” persons.

16 May

Small crowds of protesters gather in London and other parts of the UK in opposition to the lockdown. They appear to subscribe to a discredited conspiracy theory which links Covid-19 to the 5G phone network.

18 May

Health secretary Matt Hancock confirms that 21,000 contact tracers have been recruited.

Meanwhile, jury trials resume in a limited number of courts, having been suspended since 23 March.

21 May

Aviation businessman Simon Dolan launches a legal challenge against the government over the lockdown. He argues the coronavirus regulations were not made lawfully and are a disproportionate interference with the right to liberty, among other rights.

25 May

Dominic Cummings Migrant Families Empathy

Dominic Cummings answers questions from the press about his lockdown trip to Durham in the Downing Street Rose Garden. Credit: ITV News / YouTube

The PM’s chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, holds a press conference amid mounting pressure to resign after it is revealed he travelled 260 miles from London to Durham to self-isolate with his wife and child at the height of lockdown.

The PM and other cabinet ministers, including health secretary Matt Hancock and attorney general Suella Braverman, had expressed support for Cummings’ actions.

28 May

Contact tracing systems go live in England and Scotland. However, Baroness Dido Harding, in charge of the test and trace programme, told MPs the system in England will not be “fully operational at a local level” until the end of June.

Johnson announces that the government’s five tests for easing restrictions in England have been met, and from 1 June groups of up to six people will be able to meet outdoors in gardens and outdoor private spaces.

Local Lockdown: England's Path To Easing Coronavirus Restrictions

From 1 June groups of up to six people were able to meet outdoors in gardens and outdoor private spaces. Credit: Unsplash.

31 May

Liberty, StopWatch and 17 other organisations, urge the government to address the “unfair policing” of lockdown. It comes after Liberty and the Guardian revealed that black, Asian and minority ethnicity people are 56% more likely to be issued fines under lockdown laws than white people.

Rosalind Comyn, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty, said: “Such broad police powers and vague government guidance were bound to create a recipe for arbitrary policing and injustice. It’s only now becoming clear how uneven that enforcement has been.”

1 June

The latest version of The Health Protection Regulations come into effect. Car and caravan showrooms, outdoor sports amenities and outdoor non-food markets can reopen. The prohibitions on leaving home are replaced by a prohibition on staying overnight away from home, with certain specific exceptions.

Gatherings of people from more than one household are limited to six people outdoors and are prohibited entirely indoors, with exceptions including education.

Primary pupils in England in Reception, Year 1 and 6 begin to return to school.

2 June

Public Health England releases its report into the disproportionately high number of people from ethnic minorities dying from Covid-19.

The report finds that age, sex, health, geographical circumstances and ethnicity are all risk factors, with those of Bangladeshi origin experiencing a particularly high number of fatalities.

4 June

Open Rights Group, a digital rights group, files a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office alleging that the contact tracing programme does not comply with data protections, risking violations of peoples’ right to privacy.

Local Lockdown: England's Path To Easing Coronavirus Restrictions

The track and trace app was found to breach people’s privacy rights. Credit: Unsplash

5 June

Anti-racism demonstrations are held in cities across the UK following the killing of George Floyd by police in the USA. Attendees are reported to be in the thousands.

Amid these protests, health secretary Matt Hancock warns against breaching lockdown rules. At the daily press briefing he said that he “understands why people are upset” but advises people not to attend large gatherings, including demonstrations, of more than six people.

Whether the regulations that effectively ban mass protests comply with human rights has been debated at length by lawyers. Protests are protected by freedom of association and freedom of expression, but both can be interfered with to protect health where necessary and in a proportionate manner.

8 June

New laws requiring travellers arriving into the UK to quarantine for 14 days come into force. Those who break the quarantine conditions in England face a fine of £1,000 and potential prosecution.

9 June

The government drops plans for all primary school children to return to school before the end of the summer term, instead prioritising “flexibility” for schools over whether or not to admit more pupils.

Thirty medical organisations that represent black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) doctors and nurses write to Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch expressing their concern at the unequal and discriminatory impact of the pandemic.

This followed the government review that found black, Asian and ethnic minority people are twice as likely to die from Covid-19

12 June

A report from Independent SAGE, an independent group of scientists providing advice on the Covid-crisis, states that the government’s test, track and trace system is “not fit for purpose”.

The panel, led by former government chief scientific advisor David King, criticised the decision to develop a centralised contact-tracing model on the basis that it risks losing the public’s trust due to concerns over “confidentiality and security of the data”.

13 June

Parts of the fourth version of the Health Protection Regulations come into effect. In England, adults who live alone or have dependant children may become linked with one other household of any size to form, as the government labels it, a “support bubble”.

The amendment also allows people to be accompanied to medical appointments and births, and permits some visits to people in hospital, hospices and care homes.

Local Lockdown: England's Path To Easing Coronavirus Restrictions

People were permitted to visit ‘support bubble’ households in June. Credit: Unsplash

15 June

The rest of the fourth version of the Health Protection Regulations comes into effect, allowing the re-opening of some retail shops and public-facing businesses. Places of worship may again be used for private prayer but not for communal worship.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport) (England) Regulations 2020 comes into effect, requiring travellers on public transport in England to wear a face covering.

A CPS review of completed prosecutions under coronavirus laws finds improvements in the policing of the lockdown. In May, the legislation was correctly applied in almost 85% of cases, up from 75% in the last CPS review a month earlier.

16 June

Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett of Maldon proposes jury-less trials to tackle the trial backlog aggravated by court closures during the lockdown. The proposal was subsequently criticised by criminal barristers and the Criminal Bar Association.

Whilst there is no right to a jury trial under Article 6 of the ECHR, depriving defendants of a jury trial, once that system is chosen, must be compatible with ECHR principles.

Some criminal lawyers are concerned that using judge-only trials for the purpose of moving quickly through a backlog of cases is unfair on defendants.

17 June

Premier league football returns as Sheffield United play Aston Villa behind closed doors.

18 June

Health secretary Matt Hancock delays the launch of the contact tracing app, and changes its original, centralised format in favour of a different model based on technology designed by Apple and Google.

19 June

The Covid-19 Alert Level is lowered from Level Four (severe risk, high transmission) to Level Three (substantial risk, general circulation), following the agreement of all four Chief Medical Officers.

The alert level is run by the Joint Biosecurity Centre and determined primarily by R – the rate at which the virus is reproducing – and the number of infections in the UK.

The scale ranges from the least severe Level One, indicating the disease is no longer present in the UK, through to Level Five – requiring the toughest and strictest measures. Level Three states that the virus is in general circulation but without high or exponentially rising levels of transmission.

Hancock describes the change as “a big moment for the country”.

23 June

Boris Johnson announces that the lockdown in England will be relaxed from 4 July. Businesses such as pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers will be allowed to re-open.

Social distancing rules will remain in force, but reduced from two metres to “one metre plus”.

The government’s chief medical adviser, Prof Chris Whitty, said the relaxation represented a “reasonable balance of risk”.

25 June

It is revealed that the NHS test and trace system was unable to trace almost 30% of infected people between June 11th and June 17th.

29 June

Hancock announces a local lockdown in Leicester – the first of its kind in a British county – amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the area.

All non-essential shops in Leicester must close from Tuesday, while schools will close on Thursday, except to children of key workers.

The government’s plan to relax its shielding guidance for “clinically extremely vulnerable” people from 6 July will also not apply to Leicester.

The measures are to be reviewed every two weeks.