July 4 will see a whole host of changes to the lockdown in England.
It’s the date that’s been on everyone’s lips for weeks now, and the UK government has finally clarified what changes will be made to the current lockdown on July 4. Speaking in the House of Commons just now, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that pubs, restaurants, hotels, museums, hairdressers, and more in England will be permitted to open again on July 4. That will also be the day on which the long-running two-metre social distancing rule will be reduced to one metre, and overnight stays at other households become possible once more.
Plenty of whispered changes have been in the offing for several weeks, and since July 4 was given as the start of ‘Phase Three’ of the lockdown easing, the date began to acquire a great deal of significance – which only increased when the UK’s coronavirus alert level was reduced from four to three last week. Today’s briefing has given the green light to almost all of the expected easing measures, which are as follows:
Two households of any size can meet indoors
Anyone who’s been isolating without their beau will be excited for this one: you will be able to meet indoors and stay overnight at a second household from July 4. The Prime Minister said that the meet-ups do not always need to be with the same household (so no need to choose between lovers and parents), but that these meetings should be restricted to one household meeting another at any one time. As Johnson noted, “the fewer social contacts you have the safer you will be.”
The guidance applies to households irrespective of size, and marks the first time since lockdown began that people from one household will be able to stay overnight at another. However, you’ll still be expected to follow social distancing measures even if you are staying overnight, in a bid to prevent transmission of the virus.
Pubs are back…
A long three months has been made even longer by the absence of our favourite pubs and beer gardens, hasn’t it? Thankfully, pubs are permitted to reopen from July 4, but as with everything else in the UK’s gradual reopening, they’ll look a little different for a while. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, speaking on Sky News yesterday, floated the possibility of perspex screens, masks, and creative seating arrangements as a means of preventing the spread of the virus, and suggested that having visitors sign a guest book upon arrival would help track and trace anyone who might come into contact with an infection. It’s expected that those pubs which can offer online or app-based ordering of drinks will be asked to do so. As with restaurants, table service will be needed for indoor drinking.
…and restaurants are allowed to reopen
The big news for a hospitality industry that had been brought to its knees by coronavirus is that restaurants are able to reopen for indoor dining on July 4. Coupled with adherence to the one metre rule are some conditions: indoor dining will be limited to table service, there must be minimal staff and customer contact, and Johnson suggested that businesses would be asked to collect contact details to help with tracking and tracing virus cases if needed.
Sadly, the news has come too late for some in London; the likes of Tramshed, Sardine, and The Ledbury have all announced that they are closing their doors permanently as a result of lost revenue during the lockdown.
Museums, galleries, and cinemas are also back on July 4
Many of England’s favourite cultural sites could return on July 4, as the new easing measures also permit the reopening of museums, galleries, and cinemas. They’ll need to have safety measures in place, such as one-way systems and pre-booked tickets, but their return will mark another big step forward towards normality. Johnson also name-dropped outdoor gyms, playgrounds, theme parks, arcades, libraries, social clubs, and community centres as places that will also be allowed to return under similar rules. However, nightclubs, indoor gyms, swimming pools, bowling alleys, and water parks are amongst those which will not be allowed to reopen for now.
It’s worth noting that even if they can do, not all places will return, however; the National Portrait Gallery will remain closed for a three-year renovation, and some of the smaller London museums have long warned about the prospect of facing permanent closure. It remains to be seen which London sites will announce their reopening plans in the coming days.
Hairdressers and barber shops can reopen
Anyone in dire need of a haircut is in luck with the latest announcement, as hairdressers will be amongst the latest wave of reopenings. As we previously reported, there will be a few changes to the way your haircut will go, including minimal small talk and avoiding face-to-face discussions with your hairdresser. Online appointments will be favoured over walk-ins, hairdressers will wear visors during cuts, and certain hair treatments could be curtailed to allow establishments to offer a more streamlined service. The PM also signalled that nail bars could return soon.
Hotels, B&B’s, and campsites are also back
Hotels and B&Bs are amongst the new wave of reopenings allowed from July 4, another beneficiary of the relaxation of the two-metre rule and the new guidance on overnight stays. Johnson also stated that campsites will be permitted to reopen, as long as shared facilities are kept clean. Coupled with the new guidance on overnight stays, this means that holidays within England have now been given the green light.
Places of worship can return, with weddings
Churches, mosques, and synagogues will be allowed to welcome worshippers from July 4, but there will be some limitations on what can and can’t be done – for instance, singing songs of worship is likely to be out for a while, as it’s seen as a danger in spreading airborne droplets. Johnson did note that weddings of up to 30 people are now allowed.
The two-metre distancing rule is gone
It’s long been the mantra of the UK lockdown, but from July 4, the two-metre rule is no more. Instead, we’ll be asked to keep “one metre plus” away from those we don’t live with, although some mitigations will be attached. To be within one metre of someone else, you’ll need to take further precautions such as avoiding face-to-face seating, improving ventilation, changing shift patterns in work, along with wearing a mask, or meeting up outside. “Where it is possible to keep two metres apart, they should”, said the Prime Minister, who noted that the above precautions would make one metre as effective at preventing the spread as the current two metre rule.
Social distancing of at least one metre apart is the prescription of the World Health Organisation, and is the current favoured distance for countries such as China, France, and Denmark. The UK will now join them next month, in a move that has long been the ambition of bars, restaurants, and other indoor spaces where the two-metre rule would have prevented any reopening.
Shielding relaxed from July 6
As announced in Monday’s daily briefing, the 2.2 million vulnerable people who have been “shielding” (those of advanced age or with underlying health conditions) will be allowed to spend more time outdoors from July 6. The shielders will now be able to enjoy many of the benefits the rest of us have seen over the past few weeks, including meeting outdoors in groups of up to six people, and forming “support bubbles” with another household. From August 1, they’ll be allowed even more freedom as the shielding guidance relaxes completely – letting them visit shops and places of worship, and heading back to work if they’re able to do so.
A return to restrictive measures is still possible
Johnson warned that these changes would be recalled if a spike in cases was forthcoming, saying “At every stage, caution will remain our watchword. Each step will be conditional and reversible.” He asked citizens to use their common sense, but signalled a wider shift from legislation to guidance in a bid to push towards the new normal. However, the Prime Minister warned that the government wouldn’t hesitate to “apply the break” and reintroduce restrictions if a flare-up in cases was forthcoming, whether that be at a local or national level. He concluded by saying that “Our long national hibernation is coming to an end” – just so long as we still remain cautious and sensible about the new rules.
This is a developing news story, and we’ll be updating it with more info as we have it.
Also published on Medium.