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What are the rules for the January 2021 national lockdown?

What are the rules for the January 2021 national lockdown?

As the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to rise, new measures have again been introduced to reduce the spread, in an effort to save lives and protect the NHS.

The UK saw a number of measures introduced throughout 2020 in response to the changing threat of the coronavirus pandemic. As the new year begins, rising numbers of cases and deaths, increasing pressure on the NHS and the discovery of a more easily transmissible mutation of the virus mean that a third national lockdown is necessary in England to try to bring numbers under control.

Scotland and Wales have also entered national lockdowns and Northern Ireland's stay at home order will be made law from 8th January. Their rules are similar, but not identical, to those described below for England.

What am I allowed to do?

The key message from the government is to stay at home as much as possible, and only go out for the following reasons:

  • Shopping for necessities.
  • Going to work or to volunteer or provide charitable services if you can't work from home.
  • Exercising with your household (or support bubble) or one other person, once a day and within your local area.
  • To meet your support or childcare bubble (only if you're legally able to form one).
  • To seek medical assistance (like going to your GP surgery or to a pharmacy).
  • To avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (such as domestic violence).
  • To go to school or other education or childcare settings (if eligible).

Under these new restrictions, you can't meet socially with anyone you don't live with or aren't in a support bubble with, besides meeting one person to exercise together. You must remain two metres away from them at all times. Meeting in larger groups isn't allowed apart from a small number of circumstances such as for funerals.

In England, the new rules came into force on 6th January. There is not currently a scheduled end date, and the easing of restrictions will rely on cases coming down and pressure on the healthcare system being reduced. However, in his announcement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated that this will last until at least the middle of February.

What about schools?

Schools are closed to most children in England, but remain open to the children of key workers who rely on schools for childcare. Other pupils will learn remotely until at least February half term. Many exams which were due to take place this summer have now been cancelled and alternative arrangements are being made.

Nurseries and childminders can stay open, as it's believed that the risk of transmission from them is fairly low.

Universities have been told to move to online teaching, except for a few subjects such as medicine, education and social work courses. Other students have been instructed to stay wherever they are currently living where possible which, given that many students returned home over the holidays, likely means many not living at university for the time being.


People who are extremely clinically vulnerable to COVID-19, meaning they have a much higher risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from the virus, have been instructed once again to shield to protect themselves. This includes anyone classed as clinically extremely vulnerable by their GP, or anyone with certain health conditions which increase their risk.

Anyone in this group should minimise all time spent outdoors, only going out for medical appointments or exercise. Wherever possible, other tasks like shopping should be carried out on their behalf, to minimise the risk of a vulnerable person catching coronavirus.

Other rules still apply

Remember, if you have symptoms, if you have tested positive, if someone in your household has tested positive or you have otherwise been told to isolate by test and trace, your school or workplace, you must self-isolate. If you develop a new, continuous cough, or a high temperature, or lose your sense of smell and taste, you should book a test.

Stay at home for 10 days from the onset of symptoms, or if you don't develop symptoms, from the date of your positive test. You may be fined if you continue to go out, and you risk spreading the virus further.

Importantly, if you have been told to self-isolate because you have been in close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19, you should not get a test. A negative test does not mean you can leave self-isolation as you may still be in the early stages of infection, when the test may be negative even if you are infected.

If you are self-isolating because you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, you can leave self-isolation after 10 days if you do not develop symptoms in the meantime. However, if you do develop symptoms, you must arrange a test immediately. If this is positive, your 10-day period of self-isolation restarts from the time you developed symptoms.

Getting support

Undoubtedly, the pandemic has taken its toll on our physical and mental health. Whilst we've been living in and out of restrictions for nearly a year, it's still difficult for us to adjust, and it's understandable if you're finding it difficult to cope.

It's as important as ever to look after every aspect of our well-being, to help us maintain some sense of normalcy. Over the course of the pandemic, has produced content on a range of topics to help you look after your health.

Whether you're struggling with exercising or finding working from home difficult, dealing with loneliness or feeling exhausted from time spent on video calls, we've got features offering you advice from the experts. We've also created practical guides to help you understand the symptoms of COVID-19, differentiating them from other winter viruses, treating your symptoms at home and accessing testing.

You can find all our COVID-19 content in our hub, or by searching the site. Information about the restrictions and advice on how to stay healthy during the pandemic are also available on the government website.

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