Social distancing rules, support bubbles and exemptions explained
The chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, agreed that the action was needed urgently after the number of positive cases rose steeply. What are the exemptions to the Rule of Six? Support bubbles Households or support bubbles of more than six people are exempt from the new rules. Support […]

The chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, agreed that the action was needed urgently after the number of positive cases rose steeply.

What are the exemptions to the Rule of Six? Support bubbles

Households or support bubbles of more than six people are exempt from the new rules. Support bubbles allow adults who live by themselves and single parents with children under 18 to join up with one other household.

Under new rules, parents with babies under the age of one can also form a "support bubble" with another household.

This means they can do things such as visit their house, stay the night and travel together in vehicles.


Weddings were not allowed to go ahead under past restrictions, meaning many couples had to reschedule once again.

However, the recent easing on March 29 means that weddings will no longer be limited to exceptional circumstances. This means anyone wishing to tie the knot can do so with up to six attendees.

Summer weddings with unlimited guest lists could return if restrictions are lifted from Jun 21. 


Funerals can continue, with 30 people allowed to pay their respects. But only six people will be allowed to attend the wake, though they cannot take place in private homes.

Schools and offices

All primary and secondary schools reopened on March 8, although GCSE and A-level exams face cancellation for a second year.

Only vulnerable children and the children of key workers were allowed to attend schools for face-to-face learning before restrictions were eased, and early years settings such as nurseries remained accessible.

In terms of work, the Prime Minister has said everyone should work at home unless it is "impossible" to do so.

Read more: Schools reopening: all you need to know about Covid testing and face mask rules

Pubs and restaurants

From Wednesday Jan 6, all pubs and restaurants in England must close and can only offer food and non-alcoholic drinks for takeaway (until 11pm), click-and-collect and drive-through.

All food and drink (including alcohol) can continue to be provided by delivery.

Places of worship

Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples remain open, although congregations are required to stay at least one metre apart and attendance will be capped. Under the existing guidance, services are expected to conclude as quickly as possible, with worshippers encouraged to leave “promptly” afterwards. 

Sporting events

Outdoor sports facilities including golf courses, tennis and basketball courts and swimming pools all opened as part of the easing of restrictions on March 29. The wider "rule of six" social contact limits apply to outdoor sports.

If the sport has been formally organised – for example by a qualified instructor, club, national governing body, company or charity – it is not subject to the gatherings limits. But the Government guidance says it "should be compliant with guidance issued by national governing bodies".

Outdoor organised sports for both adults and children will also return but indoor sports will still be off limits. 

Will I be punished for breaking the rules?

The police can take action against you if you meet in larger groups. This includes breaking up illegal gatherings and issuing fines (fixed penalty notices).

You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.

If you hold, or are involved in holding, an illegal gathering of over 30 people, the police can issue fines of £10,000.

What are the rules in other parts of the UK?

Different rules apply to social gatherings elsewhere in the UK.

In Scotland, the "Stay At Home" message that is currently in place will be replaced by the 'Stay Local' message for no more than three weeks from Apr 2, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

The First Minister stated that barbers and hairdressers will be able to reopen from Apr 5 along with click-and-collect retail services, along with garden centres, car dealerships and homeware stores. Contact sports for 12-17 year olds will also be able to resume. 

Ms Sturgeon has confirmed that from Apr 26, pubs will be able to stay open outdoors until 10pm but indoors only until 8pm. However, alcohol will only be served outside.

Gyms will be also allowed to reopen, and outdoor socialising between six people from three households will be permitted, currently you can mix outdoors with four people from two households. Travel within all of mainland Scotland will be allowed and self-catering accommodation can open their doors from this date.

Care home restrictions were eased from early March, and on Mar 15 the next phase of pupils returning to school  - including primary and some secondary students - began.

The First Minister told MSPs that the the vaccination programme will have reached those most at risk of dying from Covd-19, which "will give us confidence to ease restrictions much more significantly from April 26', with the aim to move to Level 1 of restrictions by the beginning of June.

In Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster announced on Feb 18 that lockdown in Northern Ireland will continue until Apr 1 at the earliest, prompted by concerns of a potential rise in cases following St Patrick's Day (Mar 17). 

The 'Stay at Home' order became legally enforceable from Jan 8. People can only leave home with a "reasonable excuse" such as for medical or food shopping, exercise and work that cannot be done from home.

While remote learning will continue for older pupils, preschool and primary school children up to P3 returned to classes on Mar 8. Secondary school pupils in key exam years will be the next to return, with students in years 12-14 commencing face-to-face classes on Mar 22.  

All close contact services and non-essential retail are not permitted to open their doors until Apr 1 according to current restrictions, although some click and collect services resumed from Mar 8. All visitor attractions, gyms, and swimming pools will also remain closed.

In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford lifted the 'stay local' rule on Mar 27, meaning people living in Wales can travel anywhere in the country. Self-contained accommodation will open to people from the same household or support bubble.

People can also stay in self-contained holiday accommodation, but an "all-Wales travel area" in place until Apr 12 means people cannot travel in or out of the country for at least another two weeks without a reasonable excuse, like work.

Other changes to Wales' coronavirus rules included allowing up to six people from two different households to meet and exercise outdoors, as well as organised outdoor activities and sports for under-18s.

Since Mar 13, residents of care homes can have a single visitor indoors, and outdoor sports facilities such as basketball and tennis courts and golf courses can open again.

Hairdressers and barbers are now able to operate, while non-essential retail has begun to reopen, with garden centres and supermarkets removing obstacles to items currently unavailable. All shops, including all close contact services, will be able to open from Apr 12.

The Welsh Government reviews Covid restrictions every two weeks, and if the public health situation remains positive, travel in and out of Wales will resume Apr 12.

When might we see the end of the Rule of Six? 

By Jun 21, it is expected we will broadly be back to normal. 

Although social distancing may apply until everybody in the country has been offered a vaccine. 

This is likely to be the beginning of August.

However, Dr Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation at Public Health England, said she believed mask-wearing and social distancing would continue "for quite a long period of time", during an interview with Andrew Marr on Mar 21.

"People have got used to those lower-level restrictions now, and the economy can live with those less severe restrictions in place. Certainly for a few years, at least until other parts of the world are as well vaccinated as we are. That's when we may be able to go very gradually back to a more normal situation.", she said.


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