Coronavirus: FAQs on Business Closures

Last updated 09:30am, 1st December 2021

Over the course of the pandemic since March 2020 the Government has put in place a series of differing controls, with the aim to having the largest effect on controlling the Coronavirus epidemic with the lowest health, economic and social costs. Following the initial lockdown from March to May 2020, businesses were allowed to open in stages, with most businesses permitted to re-open by mid-August 2020, albeit subject to a strict set of “COVID-Secure” legal requirements including implementing social distancing where possible. However, increasing rates of infection in various local areas in September and October 2020 led to a series of localised lockdowns, with mid-October seeing the introduction of a tier system across England before another full lockdown through November. Although the tier system was revived for the duration of December, the Government did not reinstate regional tiers as the third full lockdown, entered into in early 2021, was relaxed, with the majority of restrictions being lifted in July. This situation continued until late November where the new “Omicron” variant led to the recent re-introduction of face coverings and PCR testing for travellers entering the UK. This article covers the latest restrictions applicable in England (under “What are the current restrictions?”), as well as the Government's “Plan B” which raises the possibility of additional restrictions over the winter months.

"What are the current restrictions?"

As at Tuesday 30 November 2021, the Government reintroduced some restrictions as a precautionary measure in the face of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant. Face coverings are now compulsory (except for exempt individuals) in shops and other settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers. Face coverings are also required on public transport. In addition, all travellers arriving in the UK must take a PCR test on or before day 2, and must self-isolate until they have received a negative test result. Although the Government has described these measures as temporary, there is no indication as yet as to how long they may be in place for. See the Government press release for further details of the current restrictions.Prior to the current increase in restrictions, as at 19 July 2021, the majority of coronavirus-related restrictions were lifted. In terms of business closures, the key changes were:

  • All remaining closed businesses and venues (e.g. nightclubs) may reopen.
  • All capacity limits at sporting, entertainment, or business events were removed.
  • There are no limits on the number of people who can attend weddings, civil partnerships, funerals and other life events (including receptions and celebrations), and no requirements for table service or restrictions on singing or dancing at such events.
  • Pubs, restaurants, bars and other hospitality venues are not required to provide table service or follow other social distancing rules.
  • People are no longer instructed to work from home, although the Government expected and recommended a gradual return to the office over the summer.

At the same time all legal controls on social distancing were removed, so that people no longer need to stay 2 metres from others, and there are no limits on the number of people that can meet. The legal requirement to wear face coverings has also been removed.  However, both individuals and businesses are expected and recommended to continue to take certain measures such as wearing face coverings in crowded areas.  The Government guidance reminds employers that they should carry out health and safety risk assessments, and that the Working Safely guidance sets out mitigations that employers should consider. In addition, organisations in higher risk settings are encouraged to use the NHS COVID Pass as a condition of entry to reduce risks. For full details of the 19 July relaxation of restrictions see the Government guidance here.

"What is the Government's plan?"

In the Government's COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan 2021, it set out a Plan B that would be used in the event that the NHS is in danger of becoming overwhelmed over the winter, described as “a plausible outcome and one that must be prepared for” although the Government's hope is that the high levels of vaccination should mean that greater restrictions are not required. Plan B would include mandatory vaccine-only COVID-status certification for a limited number of settings such as nightclubs, crowded settings, and large events, a measure viewed as preferable to closing venues entirely or reintroducing mandatory social distancing. This would be implemented via the NHS COVID Pass, which currently certifies based on vaccination, testing or natural immunity status.  The Government intends to give at least a week's notice of any such change. Plan B would also include the re-introduction of the requirement to wear face coverings in some settings, although the Government has not confirmed which settings this would apply to. However, in respect of working from home, the Government recognises that the overall socio-economic effects are complex and unevenly distributed, with increased productivity in some areas being balanced with challenges to productivity in others, and Plan B seems to view home working requirements as a measure of “last resort”.

How were restrictions lifted during 2021?

In February 2021, following early indications of the success of the vaccination programme and the New Year lockdown, the Government announced its intention to relax restrictions in a number of stages across the March to June period. For full details of the planned roadmap, see the Government guidance here. The key elements of each stage of that plan that are likely to be relevant to businesses are set out below.  :Stage 1a: 8 March 2021

  • Schools and colleges re-opened
  • University students permitted to return for practical courses

Stage 1b: 29 March 2021

  • Outdoor sports facilities (e.g. open-air swimming pools, golf courses, tennis courts) will be permitted to re-open
  • Weddings with up to six attendees will be permitted

Stage 2: 12 April 2021

  • All retail permitted to re-open
  • All close-contact services permitted to re-open (including services provided in the home)
  • Pubs, restaurants and bars permitted to re-open for outdoor table service of food and alcohol
  • Gyms and spas permitted to re-open (for use by people on their own or in household groups only)
  • Most outdoor venues including zoos and theme parks permitted to re-open
  • Self-contained holiday accommodation permitted to re-open (for use by members of the same household only)
  • Weddings with up to 15 attendees permitted

Stage 3: 17 May 2021

  • Pubs, restaurants and bars permitted to provide table service to customers indoors
  • Weddings (and other life events such as christenings) with up to 30 attendees permitted
  • Indoor entertainment such as cinemas, theatres and soft play centres permitted to re-open
  • Large events and performances permitted subject to limits on numbers of attendees
  • All other holiday accommodation permitted to re-open.
  • Indoor group sports and exercise classes for adults permitted
  • Travel internationally other than for business reasons permitted

Stage 4: 19 July 2021

  • All remaining closed businesses and venues may reopen
  • Weddings, funerals and other life events will be able to take place with no limit on the number of attendees
  • Nightclubs will be permitted to re-open
  • Restrictions on large events and performances to be eased
  • Hospitality venues no longer required to provide table service
  • People will no longer be expected to work from home if they can

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"What about the position in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales?"

The devolved administrations have taken slightly differing approaches to lockdown throughout. Although the Government had, in the relation of the initial lockdown in summer 2020, hoped to synchronise measures across the devolved administrations, each administration has taken a different assessment of the risks involved and a different approach to the lifting of restrictions. For instance, Scotland will also be easing restrictions on 19 July, but face coverings will remain mandatory, limits on outdoor meetings will stay in place, and the return to the office will be delayed. Meanwhile, Wales has not yet announced its plan for the next stage but has confirmed face coverings would continue to be required in certain settings such as public transport, and Northern Ireland is looking to relax restrictions on 26 July but will maintain some restrictions including limits on how many people can meet both indoors and outside.For further detail of the current restrictions in the devolved administrations, see the Scottish Government's timetable, the Welsh Government's guidance, and the Northern Ireland Government's guidance.Back to the top

If you would like to talk through the consequences for your business, please email us and one of our team will get in touch.


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.