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On the evening of 23 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced the most stringent measures yet to attempt to control the spread of the covid-19 coronavirus. Details of the UK government’s announcement can be found here and the Scottish government’s guidance can be found here.

What we know about ‘lockdown’

The UK government guidance states that from the evening of 23 March 2020 the only permissible reasons for individuals to leave their homes are:

  • Shopping for basic essentials as infrequently as possible
  • Exercising once a day either alone or with members of your own household
  • For medical reasons or to care for a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to and from work in certain cases

Even when carrying out the above activities, the direction is to minimise the time spent outside of your own home and to ensure that you maintain a distance of at least two meters from those who are not members of the same household. Public gatherings of more than two people other than where this is with members of the same household or for work purposes are banned.

Business Closures

Since Friday 20 March 2020, certain businesses including pubs, cinemas, theatres and clubs have been directed to close. Restaurants and cafes have been closed except where they provide a takeaway service. From 23 March 2020 this direction has been extended to closure of public spaces including libraries, playgrounds, places of worship other than for funerals, hotels and B and Bs, and ‘non-essential’ retail stores.

The UK government has specifically identified clothing and electronics stores; hair, beauty and nail salons; and outdoor and indoor markets excluding food markets as being non-essential. Supermarkets and other food shops, health shops, pharmacies, petrol stations, bicycle shops, home and hardware shops, launderettes and dry cleaners, garages, car rentals, pet shops, corner shops, newsagents, post offices and banks have been expressly listed as those than can remain open. Furthermore, where individuals live in hotels, hostels, or B and Bs as their primary residence they may continue to do so, and key workers may stay in these residences where required. Takeaway services for restaurants and cafes may continue, and in England and Wales, planning regulations will be changed to allow those businesses that do not currently offer such services to do so.

These measures will remain in force for at least three weeks, at which point they will be reviewed.

What we do not know about lockdown

There remains a lack of clarity about which businesses outside those specified can and should remain open. The UK government has stated that travelling to and from work is permissible “only where this absolutely cannot be done from home”. Meanwhile, the Scottish government guidance issued yesterday evening states that it is only permissible to travel to “essential work if that cannot be done from home”. These two statements differ, with the UK government wording appearing to give more scope for an employer (outwith the designated sectors) to stay open, where the work cannot be done from home.

There have been contradictory statements in the media regarding some industries, for example construction. More guidance will likely need to be issued shortly as the government faces calls to clarify its directions as to which businesses specifically can and should remain operational and which should close. Emergency legislation is still progressing through the UK and devolved parliaments.

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