UK: Happy Lockdowniversary! 12 Months of Shutdowns, Travel Bans, and Stay-at-Home Orders

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson smiles during a televised press conference at 10 Downing Street on February 22, 2021 in London, England. The prime minister announced a phased exit from the country's current lockdown measures, imposed before Christmas to curb a surge in covid-19 cases. …
Leon Neal - WPA Pool/Getty Images

One year ago today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Britain’s first police-enforced national lockdown, which led to 12 months of tiers, business shutdowns, and travel restrictions.

One year later, England is slowly moving through the prime minister’s “roadmap” out of the country’s third lockdown. Though the prime minister suggested all restrictions should be lifted by June 21st, he would not commit to the date.

Prime Minister Johnson claimed on Monday that a third wave of coronavirus would “wash up on our shores”. Overseas holidays will now be banned until the end of June, with The Times reporting on Tuesday that foreign holidays free of quarantine restrictions might not be possible until August or even September.

So where did it all begin?

— March 23rd, 2020: UK Goes into First Lockdown — 

On March 23rd of last year, the prime minister announced “stay at home” orders for all Britons, barring them from leaving their houses except for shopping for “basic necessities”, care needs, “one form of exercise a day”, and commuting to work.

He also barred Britons from meeting friends and relatives, stopped important events like weddings, banned public gatherings of more than two, and forced the closure of shops deemed “non-essential”.

Johnson also made the law a policing matter, stating that “if you don’t follow the rules the police will have the powers to enforce them, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.”

Mr Johnson would not commit to an end date for the first lockdown, saying only that restrictions would be “under constant review”, stating last year: “We will look again in three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to.”

By April 30th, the prime minister said that the UK was “past the peak” — however, he added that restrictions would remain in place long-term.

Lockdown began to be eased on May 10th, with children returning to school, and pubs reopening, with restrictions, in the following months, giving Britons a brief reprieve from effective house arrest for the summer.

 — The Tiers System and Lockdown 2.0 — 

However, by mid-September Johnson said a “second wave” of the Chinese virus was hitting the country. Less than four weeks later, a regional three-tiered system was introduced, which put cities like Liverpool in the top Tier 1, resulting in non-essential shops being shut. Leicester was placed in Tier 2, the second-highest level of restrictions. Many other areas of the north-east of England also came under the top two restrictions.

Then in November, Johnson announced a four-week “circuit-breaker” lockdown for England — with the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland determining their own restrictions.

— England Enters Tighter Lockdown Tiers Coming out of Lockdown Than Going In —

The national lockdown ended on December 2nd, but was simply replaced by the regional tiers system, which saw 99 per cent of England under the top two strictest measures. Only the Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, and the Isle of Wight ended up in the mildest tier.

Several Brexit Party and Conservative party politicians criticised vast swathes of the country being put under the measures, with Conor Burns MP noting: “How can you end a four-week lockdown in a worse place in terms of restrictions than before it?”

— Christmas Ends in Tiers in the South-East —

Despite the government relaxing lockdown restrictions for five days over the holiday period, Boris Johnson effectively cancelled Christmas for some 16 million people in the South-East of England when he announced a newly-created “Tier 4” on December 19th, saying that a new variant of the Chinese coronavirus was spreading in the region.

Stay-at-home orders were put into effect just four days before Christmas Eve, the measures banning families and friends from getting together and forcing the closure of hospitality venues and non-essential retail.

— Lockdown 3.0 — 

The day before New Year’s Eve, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that nearly 80 per cent of all England would be put under Tier 4 restrictions, with media reports from that week a nationwide “Tier 5” was on the horizon.

On January 4th, Johnson announced a third state of lockdown for the whole of England, promising no end date and only hoping for the return of freedom pending vaccine success and falling virus fatalities.

Only on February 22nd did the prime minister announce a plan for exiting lockdown that could release Britons, by the earliest, on June 21st. However, scientists and medical professionals advising the government have said that measures like social distancing and wearing masks could go on for “years”.

— Britons Under House Arrest While Borders Are Wide Open —

Throughout much of lockdown, whilst Britons were under some form of stay-at-home orders, the United Kingdom’s external borders to the rest of the world remained open, with the government only “considering” closing its ports and terminals in January 2021.

It wasn’t until early last month that the government announced that from February 14th, British residents returning from “red list” countries will have to quarantine in hotels for 10 nights — at their own expense.

Those travelling from a country not coming from a coronavirus hotspot may self-isolate for 10 days at home or with relatives, and all travellers must take COVID-19 tests.

— UK Introduces Exit Permits — 

It is currently prohibited under British law to travel abroad for non-essential purposes. The British government introduced earlier this month regulations that require would-be travellers to complete a form stating “legally permitted reasons” for leaving the country.

Travellers must present the papers when demanded by police, or otherwise at the port of departure, or face a £200 fine. The measures are likely to be in place for at least the next two months.

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