Coronavirus: UK announces 'lockdown' measures

Out-Law Analysis | 24 Mar 2020 | 12:39 pm | 2 min. read

The UK prime minister has announced that people must stay at home and away from others in all but the most limited of circumstances in order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, officially Covid-19.

The measures, which came into force last night, will remain in place for at least three weeks, after which they will be reviewed. They will only be relaxed if the evidence shows this as possible.

Police and other "relevant authorities" will be given new powers to enforce the measures, including through fines and dispersing gatherings.

What has been announced?

As of 23 March, people in the UK will only be permitted to leave their homes for one of four purposes:

  • essential food shopping for basic necessities, no more than once per day;
  • taking part in one form of exercise a day - for example running, walking or cycling - alone or with members of immediate household;
  • for medical need or to provide essential care of a vulnerable person;
  • travelling to and from essential work, only where absolutely necessary and where working from home is not possible.

The prime minister also announced:

  • the closure of all shops selling non-essential goods – for example, clothes or electronics;
  • the closure of other facilities, including libraries and playparks;
  • a ban on gatherings of more than two people including weddings and baptisms, but with an exception for funerals;
  • parks will be open for exercise, but gatherings dispersed.

Restaurants, pubs and bars were ordered to close on 20 March, with regulations enforcing closure in England in effect from 2pm on 21 March.

What does this mean for businesses?

All businesses listed in government guidance (6-page / 163KB PDF) in England and Wales must close, subject to the noted exceptions. The same required closures will be extended to Scotland and Northern Ireland by ministerial direction once the Coronavirus Bill is in force, but businesses in these jurisdictions have been told to close by the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Where businesses in the exceptions remain open, they must comply with guidance from the government and Public Health England (PHE).

Other businesses can remain 'open', but people can only travel to and from the premises where absolutely necessary to fulfil their role and must comply with social distancing measures in line with PHE guidance. Everyone else should work from home.

Businesses that remain open need to specifically consider:

  • how they will comply with health and safety obligations and keep staff safe in the workplace environment, and how they will keep their contractors, customers and the public safe;
  • how they can ensure working from home for as many employees as possible, seeking employment law advice where necessary;
  • whether there are employees that need to be furloughed, and if so how they can apply under the UK's coronavirus job retention scheme;
  • whether suppliers can continue to operate in order to help the business remain open throughout this period, or whether any practical issues will arise;
  • any additional reliefs that may be applicable;
  • notification of insurers.

Businesses that will close need to specifically consider:

  • options for employees, including furloughing and the coronavirus job retention scheme - employment law advice should be obtained;
  • notification of customers and suppliers and managing any claims associated with these;
  • compliance with directors' duties in decision making to promote the success of the company, having regard to all relevant stakeholder interests including those of employees, customers and suppliers and the long term;
  • any obligations to secure premises;
  • notification of insurers;
  • any additional reliefs that may be applicable – for example, business rates relief.