On 11 and 13 July 2020, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No.2) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 came into force, reopening several businesses and sectors, in order to cautiously return the economy and life to normal in light of the evolving coronavirus pandemic. We have kept the Regulations under continuous review in order to balance these cautious steps to return to normal life with ensuring that the virus remains under control.
Reopening of closed premises in England
Taking into account scientific advice and the Government’s assessment of the current state of the epidemic, I am making further amendments to the Regulations that ease some of the restrictions still in place. These amendments permit some additional businesses and venues to reopen. The amendments allow indoor; swimming pools and water parks, fitness and dance studies, gyms, sports courts and facilities to reopen from 25 July.
Changes to Leicester restrictions
The reopening of closed premises above will not apply to the City of Leicester and the Borough of Oadby and Wigston at this time. On 16 July, I made a statement in the House, outlining that we are in a position to relax some, though not all the measures in the protected area of Leicester. As of Saturday 18 July, the geographical area to which the restrictions apply was altered in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Leicester) Regulations 2020. The local restrictions still apply within the city boundaries, along with Oadby and Wigston. Other parts of the county that were in the protected area are no longer subject to restrictions. They have been brought in line with measures applying to the rest of England.
I am also making further changes to the Leicester restrictions. From 24 July non-essential retail, betting shops, retail galleries, drive-in cinemas, and the outdoor areas of zoos and visitor farms will be allowed to reopen in Leicester, and out-of-school childcare and educational establishments will be allowed to reopen. It is as vital as ever that these premises all reopen in accordance with COVID-19 Secure guidelines. The government will continue to review the remaining restrictions in Leicester at least every 14 days with the next review due to take place before 30 July.
Further Local Restrictions
Based on our assessment of the levels of incidence and prevalence in some parts of the country, we will also pass a separate set of regulations to exclude Blackburn with Darwen and Luton local authority areas from these changes, similar to our approach to local restrictions in Leicester. This reflects the importance of mitigating transmission in these areas, where the general public must take particular care to ensure local outbreaks do not escalate. These regulations will keep indoor; swimming pools and water parks, fitness and dance studies, gyms, sports courts and facilities closed.
Requiring face coverings in shops, supermarkets, shopping centres, banks, post offices and transport hubs
Alongside the reopening of these venues – in Leicester and nationally - the Government has also introduced regulations making the wearing of face coverings mandatory in shops, supermarkets, enclosed shopping centres, banks, post offices and transport hubs. This builds on the existing legal requirement to wear them on public transport, which has been in place since 15 June. We have taken this step to give members of the public more confidence to shop safely and enhance protections for those who work in shops. While face coverings are not a substitute for distancing and hand hygiene, there is some evidence to suggest that when used correctly, face coverings may have some benefit in reducing the likelihood of someone with the infection passing it on to others, particularly if they are asymptomatic.
Whilst we expect the vast majority of the public to comply with the rules, as they have done so throughout the pandemic, the Regulations also give powers to the police and other enforcement officers to enforce this policy. In the first instance we would expect business and retailers to take steps for compliance where possible (through signs for example). However as is usual practice, if a customer is acting anti-socially or against the rules, staff will be able to call the police for support if needed.
We recognise that for some, wearing a face covering is not possible on age, health or other equalities grounds. That is why the regulations include a non-exhaustive list of exemptions from the policy, which mirror those in place for the similar regulations made on public transport. If someone is legally exempt from the Regulations, they should not be questioned or prohibited from entering a setting where these regulations apply.
For settings where these regulations do not apply, the advice remains that if you can, you should wear a face covering in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet.
The Government continues to keep all the regulations under review and will continue assessing if further measures need to be put in place. In the meantime, we have published guidance on these regulations on Gov.uk and will continue to update this to reflect the latest advice.
Draft regulations to enable local or regional restrictions
The Government has also published draft regulations that set out a non-exhaustive set of options, illustrating the ways Government might legislate under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 as part of a targeted approach that responds to the particular circumstances of a local outbreak in England.
These draft regulations are intended to supplement the CONTAIN framework for controlling future outbreaks of COVID-19, published last week, and are expected to be used by Ministers should actions by local authorities - including use of new powers provided to them by the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.3) Regulations 2020, as of 18 July - be insufficient to contain a local outbreak. Any regulations made are expected to be primarily based on one or more of the measures laid out in the draft regulations – though all regulations will be tailored to the circumstances of the specific local outbreak they are intended to address, and alternative measures might be included if those circumstances require it. As ever, as our response to COVID-19 and circumstances in local areas develop over time, we may introduce new categories of intervention and would formulate new draft regulations accordingly.
The measures in the draft regulations will allow for effective targeted interventions, while seeking to avoid a return to a national lockdown. In the event that the Government does need to make a significant intervention, it would do so in a way that targets the transmission of the virus while minimising the disruption to the economy and society.
The draft regulations and accompanying explanatory note can be found on Gov.uk. I will also deposit a copy in the Libraries of both Houses. By publishing these draft regulations, the Government hopes they may prove helpful to parliamentarians as an illustration of the way we may legislate to address local outbreaks if necessary.