In May, Boris Johnson outlined the five tests that he said must be met before lockdown restrictions were further lifted. They included seeing a sustained fall in the rate of infection from Covid-19, a sustained fall in the death rate, and ensuring that the NHS had the capacity to cope with the number of coronavirus patients.
The prime minister confirmed that such conditions had been met in a speech delivered on Thursday 28 May, in which he announced how restrictions would be eased in England in the coming weeks.
The new changes, which include the phased reopening of schools, opening non-essential retail and more social and family contact, come after Britons spent more than two months in lockdown, during which time they were told to stay inside their homes with limited exceptions.
Here’s everything you need to know about stage two of lockdown and how the rules have changed for people across the UK.
Why have we entered stage two?
We have now entered the second phase of lockdown because, as Boris Johnson announced in his speech on Thursday 28 May, the five tests the government set out have now been met.
The prime minister confirmed that the NHS has enough critical-care capacity to cope with the number of Covid-19 patients, that there has been a sustained fall in the death rate from Covid-19, that there has been a sustained and considerable fall in the rate of infection from the illness, that the PPE shortage has been addressed, and that sufficient measures are in place to ensure that the reproduction rate of the disease – the R number – remains lower than one.
Mr Johnson outlined the above in his speech with a series of slides before going on to announce how restrictions would now be lifted in light of meeting the five key tests.
What defines stage two?
The government has said that stage two is about lifting lockdown restrictions with “smarter measures” that will have “the largest effect on controlling the epidemic but the lowest health, economic and social costs”.
“Today I can confirm I do believe we will be in a position to move to step two of our plan,” Mr Johnson said on 28 May.
“As part of step two, we set out plans for a phased reopening of schools because the education of our children is crucial for their welfare, their health and their long-term future and for social justice.”
Additionally, the prime minister announced that people in England would be able to meet with others outside of their household in groups of six as long as they remained in private gardens or parks and at a two-metre distance.
Such measures, he said, are designed to “maximise the pace at which restrictions are lifted”.
How have the rules changed in stage two?
The “smarter measures” that the government references are with regards to lifting restrictions on schools, non-essential shops, and socialising. In the latest guidance published by the government, it lists the new measures as follows:
- A phased return for early years settings and schools
- Opening non-essential retail
- Permitting cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed-doors
- Re-opening more local public transport in urban areas, subject to strict measures
- Social and family contact
Some of these rules have changed immediately but others, like opening non-essential retail, will not happen until 15 June.
How long will stage two last?
It’s not yet clear exactly how long it will be until we move into the third phase of lifting the lockdown, during which time other areas such as hospitality will look at reopening and people might be able to socialise in larger groups.
But in the government’s latest official guidance it states that the next step will take place “when the assessment of risk warrants further adjustments to the remaining measures”.
The current assumption, the document states, is that “this step will be no earlier than 4 July”, which would mean that stage two would last a minimum of five weeks.
How have the rules changed regarding meeting friends and family in stage two?
At the start of phase one, Britons were told not to meet up with anyone outside of their household.
However, from 10 May, people in England were told they could start socialising with one person outside of their household so long as they were in a public outdoor space and maintained social distancing guidelines.
Now, in the second phase, people in England can meet with others outside of their household in groups of six. Social distancing must still be observed between those in different households, but these groups can now meet in parks and private gardens, with the prime minister giving the go-ahead of barbecues and picnics.
If you are entering someone else’s garden, you must avoid going inside the house. Here’s what the official government guidance states: ”It remains the case that people should not spend time inside the homes of their friends and families, other than to access the garden or use the toilet.”
People in Scotland can meet outdoors with another household in groups of up to eight as of Friday 29 May and in Wales, restrictions are expected to be eased from 1 June to allow people in two households to socialise outside.
Northern Ireland already allows groups of up to six people from different households to socialise outdoors so long as they maintain social distancing.
What rules have changed regarding exercise in stage two?
For most of phase one, people could exercise outside only once a day. However, towards the end of phase one, people in England were permitted to exercise outside as much as they liked. They were also permitted to sunbathe. From 28 May Scots can do the same. Now, as of 1 June, people in England will be able to exercise outside with up to five others from different households, provided that strict social distancing guidelines are followed.
In Scotland, outdoor activities where physical distancing can be maintained can restart from Friday. This includes golf, tennis, bowls and fishing.
Rules in Wales are set to be relaxed from 1 June and changes to the rules in Northern Ireland will be confirmed that week.
Will schools and universities reopen in stage two?
In England, pupils in Reception, Year One and Year Six will be able to return to school from 1 June.
Secondary schools and further education colleges will reopen on 15 June, allowing pupils in Year 10 and Year 12 to have face-to-face contact with teachers.
It’s not yet clear when students will be able to attend university in person, with the majority of courses being taught online.
In Wales, ministers have ruled out schools reopening on 1 June while in Scotland, children are expected to return to school on 11 August. In Northern Ireland, some pupils will return to school in August.
Will shops reopen in stage two?
In England, all non-essential retailers can reopen from 15 June. This includes department stores and smaller independent shops, but they will have to comply with social distancing measures.
Meanwhile, outdoor markets and showrooms can reopen from 1 June so long as they are “Covid-secure” and garden centres have already opened in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
What will define phase three and when will it start?
Phase three will be about opening some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close in lockdown.
According to the government's official document, this includes personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons), hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation), public places (such as places of worship) and leisure facilities (like cinemas).
These places will only be able to reopen if they meet the government's Covid-secure guidelines and the government has said that some of the first to reopen will be those with gardens where social distancing can be easily maintained.
The government notes that some venues may not be able to reopen because their design does not allow for social distancing.
"Nevertheless the government will wish to open as many businesses and public places as the data and information at the time allows," the document adds.
Phase three is not expected to begin until at least 4 July. But this date is conditional and in order to bring about this phase as quickly as possible, the government has said it is investing in research, developing international partnerships and putting in place the infrastructure to manufacture and distribute treatments and/or a vaccine at scale.