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Government unveils lockdown exit strategy

Following the announcement from the Prime Minister on 5 July, the government has set out the plan to ease restrictions at Step 4 of the Roadmap. Our guide summarises the key points relevant to your business.

This page was updated on 20 July 2021. 

On 22 February, the Prime Minister published the government's roadmap to easing national COVID-19 restrictions in England. Moving away from lockdown was set to take place in four steps and an overview of these and key dates included in each one can be seen below. 

On 12 July, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care confirmed the move to the next stage of the roadmap on 19 July.

Key dates in the lockdown exit strategy

Step 4 - 19 July

1. Social Contact 

  • All legal limits on social contact have been removed. This means there are no restrictions on indoor or outdoor gatherings
  • All restrictions on life events (e.g. weddings, funerals, bar/bat mitzvahs and baptisms) have been removed, including the remaining restrictions on the number of attendees. The requirement for table service at life events and restrictions on singing or dancing has also been removed.
  • Restrictions that limit each care home resident to five named visitors have been removed

2. Social distancing and face coverings

  • Social distancing rules (2 metres or 1 metre with mitigations in place) have been lifted.
  • Social distancing will only be required in some specific settings (e.g. ports of entry, medical settings)
  • Large events are able to resume without any limits on attendance or social distancing requirements
  • Face coverings are no longer legally required in any setting. However, the government expects and recommends that face coverings continue to be worn in crowded and enclosed spaces such as on public transport.

3. Businesses and activities

  • Remaining closed settings including nightclubs have been allowed to reopen
  • Businesses are no longer instructed to have people work from home and can start to plan a gradual return to the workplace. 

    Working Safely’ guidance has been updated to provide examples of sensible precautions employers can take to reduce risk in their workplaces. Employers should take account of this guidance in preparing the risk assessments they are already required to make under pre-pandemic health and safety rules.

  • Regulations that place COVID-secure requirements on businesses, including table service, and distancing between tables, have been lifted.
  • While it is no longer a legal requirement for certain sectors including hospitality, tourism and leisure businesses to continue to display QR codes for customers to check-in using the NHS COVID-19 app or to collect customer contact details, doing so will support NHS Test and Trace.

    Note: If there are multiple new cases of COVID-19 linked to a venue, any individuals who checked in will receive a venue alert advising them to book a test. There will not be a requirement to self-isolate unless the attendee tests positive for COVID-19. The alert will be a notification from their NHS COVID-19 app if they scanned the NHS QR code, or a text message if they provided their contact number. 

4. Self-isolation

  • The government's financial support for self-isolation will continue as it is now until the end of September.
  • Businesses must continue to not require self-isolating staff to come into work, and should ensure that employees and customers who feel unwell do not attend their premises. 
  • *Individuals will continue to have to self-isolate if they test positive (regardless of their vaccination status) or are instructed to do so by NHS Test and Trace.

    However, from 16 August 2021, people who have been fully vaccinated will no longer be required to self-isolate if they are identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive. From this date, 
    close contacts who are fully vaccinated will be advised to take a PCR test as soon as possible and only self-isolate if this comes back positive. 

  • Individuals getting their second dose just before, or after, the 16th of August will have to wait until two weeks after they get the second jab to benefit from these new freedoms.
  • In line with the approach for adults, anyone under the age of 18, who is a close contact of a positive case, will no longer need to self-isolate either.

    *In the short-term and before 16 August when the exemption for fully-vaccinated contacts comes into force, a limited number of fully vaccinated critical workers will be able to leave self-isolation in exceptional circumstances to go to their workplace.

5. COVID certification

  • COVID-status certification is currently not legally required as a condition of entry for visitors to any domestic setting.

    However, the government is urging and supporting nightclubs and other venues and settings with large crowds to make use of the NHS Covid Pass - which shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or natural immunity – as a means of entry to help to limit the risk of infection. 

    To assist these venues and businesses with checking their customers' COVID-19 status, the NHS has developed the NHS COVID Pass Verifier App. This App allows organisations to scan the 2D barcode on an individual’s NHS COVID Pass and check the legitimacy of what is being presented to them. Businesses can download the app from the Apple or Google app stores and a user guide is available on the NHS website.

    Please note that by the end of September, when everyone aged 18 and over will have had the chance to receive full vaccination, the government plans to make full vaccination a condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather. Proof of a negative test will no longer be sufficient. 


6. Education

  • From this date, there will be no restrictions on in-person teaching and learning in universities
  • The updated guidance removes restrictions such as keeping children in bubbles and wearing face coverings in classrooms and communal areas and on dedicated school transport
  • From 16 August 2021, children under the age of 18 years old will no longer be required to self-isolate if they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace as a close contact.
  • More information on the new operational guidance for schools that will apply from Step 4 is available on the government website.

7. Travel

  • The Transport Secretary provided a further statement on international travel setting out the government's plan to remove the requirement to self-isolate for arrivals from amber countries who are fully vaccinated. For more information, visit our dedicated travel page

The government will continue to monitor the data and will review the remaining regulations in September. This assessment will also consider whether it might be necessary to strengthen public and business guidance including on face coverings and test, trace and isolate ahead of winter. 

For more information on how to stay safe and help prevent the spread of coronavirus from 19 July, visit the government website.

Guidance for moving to Step 4 of the roadmap

Step 3 - 17 May 


Social Contact 

  • Social restrictions will be further relaxed with:
    • people allowed to meet socially in a group of six or with one other household in indoor settings.
    • up to 30 people allowed to meet outdoors
    • new guidance being issued on meeting friends and family. This will enable individuals to make a personal choice on whether to keep their distance from them.

      However, employers should note that social distancing remains in place in the workplace and in businesses like shops and hospitality. A site owner will continue to have a responsibility to calculate the number of people their venue can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place. 
  • Care home residents will now be able to nominate 5 regular visitors and will no longer be required to self-isolate following certain activities taking place outside the care home (e.g. medical appointments, visits to the park etc.)

Businesses and activities

  • The government's advice on working from home will remain in place.
  • Indoor hospitality will be able to reopen. However, venues will be required to provide table service.
  • The remaining outdoor entertainment venues such as outdoor theatres and cinemas will reopen.
  • Indoor entertainment venues including museums, cinemas and children’s play areas will reopen.
  • The remaining accommodation venues including hotels, hostels and B&Bs will be allowed to reopen.
  • Saunas and steam rooms can reopen
  • Adult indoor group sports and exercise classes will be able to take place.
  • The gathering limits for support groups and parent and child groups will increase to 30 people (not including under 5s)

The full list of businesses allowed to reopen in Step 3 is available on the government website.


  • Certain large events, including conferences, theatre and concert performances and sports events will be able to take place. Capacity limits will apply:
    • Indoor events - 1,000 attendees or 50% of a venue's capacity (whichever is lower)
    • Outdoor events - 4,000 attendees or 50% of a venue's capacity (whichever is lower)
    • Other outdoor seated events - 10,000 attendees or 25% of total seated capacity (whichever is lower).

      Visit the government website for further details on which events are permitted in Step 3 of the roadmap.
  • Weddings, receptions and commemorative events can now all take place with up to 30 attendees (Further life events including bar mitzvahs and christenings to now also be allowed)
  • Funerals can now take place with as many people as the venue can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place (the 30 person limit has been removed).


  • International leisure travel from England will no longer be illegal from 17 May 2021. For more information on how international travel is expected to resume, visit our Travel page

Additional restrictions to be eased from 21 June:

  • Weddings, civil partnership ceremonies, wedding receptions or civil partnership celebrations and commemorative events following a funeral will be able to take place with as many people as the venue can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place (the 30 person limit will be removed)
  • Out-of-school settings and wraparound childcare providers will be allowed to organise domestic overnight trips for children in groups of up to 30. 
  • Changes to care home restrictions:
    • All care home residents and not just those with higher care needs will be able to nominate an essential care giver. This individual will be allowed to visit even if the resident is isolating.
    • Care home residents will now be able to leave the home for more social reasons including overnight stays without being required to isolate. 
    • Individuals admitted to a care home from the community will no longer have to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival. 

Step 2 - 12 April 2021

Social Contact 

  • A group of up to 6 people or two households will continue to be allowed to meet outdoors
  • Care home residents will now have access to two regular visitors

Businesses and activities

  • People should continue to work from home where they can and reduce travel where possible.
  • Non-essential retail; personal care facilities (i.e. hairdressers, salons and close contact services) and indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and spas will reopen. Note: saunas and steam rooms will be required to remain closed at this stage).
  • Self-contained accommodation can reopen (provided this is only used by members of the same household).
  • Outdoor hospitality will reopen. 
    • Customers will be required to order and consume their food and drink at their table.
    • The curfew on serving and closing times, and the requirement for a substantial meal to be served alongside alcoholic drinks, will cease to apply.
  • Outdoor settings and attractions including zoos, theme parks and drive-in cinemas can reopen and drive-in performances events will be able to restart.
  • Public buildings including libraries and community centres will reopen.
  • All children activities will now be able to take place indoors, including sport, regardless of circumstance. Indoor parent and child groups of up to 15 people can also resume.
  • Car driving tests will be allowed to restart on 22 April 2021 while car driving lessons and theory tests will be allowed to restart on 12 April 2021.


The full list of businesses allowed to reopen in Step 2 is available on the government website.


  • Outdoor events, organised by a business, charity, public body or similar organisation, can take place provided they follow COVID-secure guidance
  • Funerals can continue to proceed with up to 30 attendees whereas weddings, receptions and commemorative events including wakes will now be able to take place with up to 15 attendees. 


  • Overnight stays away from home will be permitted 
  • International travel for leisure purposes will remain prohibited.

Step 1 

29th March 

Social contact

  • The rules on social gatherings in outdoor settings (including in private gardens) will be further relaxed. Individuals will be able to meet in groups of up to six people (from any number of households) or in a group of any size from up to 2 households (each household can include existing support bubbles, if eligible).

Businesses and activities

  • Outdoor sports facilities (i.e. tennis or basketball courts, open-air swimming pools etc.) will reopen.
  • Organised outdoor sports – for adults and under 18s will resume (this will not be subject to the gatherings limits)
  • Out-of-school settings and wraparound providers will be able to offer outdoor provision to all children without restrictions on the purpose for which they may attend

  • Outdoor parent and child groups to resume with up to 15 attendees.

The full list of businesses allowed to reopen in Step 1 is available on the government website.


  • Funerals and wakes will continue to be able to take place with restrictions on the number of attendees (30 for funerals and 6 for wakes)
  • Weddings will no longer be limited to exceptional circumstances and can proceed with 6 attendees.


  • Legal requirement to stay at home ceases to apply

8th March 


    • All schools and colleges will be allowed to reopen providing face-to-face education.

    • Students on practical Higher Education courses at English universities who would be unable to complete their courses if they did not return to take part in practical teaching, access specialist facilities, or complete assessments will also be allowed to return.

Social Contact

  • Outdoor social contact restrictions will be relaxed. This means that from this date, individuals will be able to meet socially with one person outside their household or support bubble in a public space. However, clinically extremely vulnerable individuals are advised to continue shielding until 31 March. 

  • Care home residents will be able to nominate one regular indoor visitor. To enable them to hold hands safely, all visitors will be required to wear appropriate PPE and receive a lateral flow test prior to entering. This new measure will be in addition to outdoor, pod and screen visits already taking place. More information is available on the government website.

Businesses and activities

  • Wraparound childcare (including childminders) and other children’s activities can resume where it is needed to help parents or carers to work, seek work, attend education, seek medical care or attend a support group.


  • Travelling abroad for holidays will still be prohibited.
  • Outbound travellers will be legally required to provide their reason for travel on the Declaration to Travel form
View the full list of businesses reopening at each stage

 More information is available on the UK Government’s Coronavirus Business Support website. For more personalised advice call us on: 0161 237 4128 or email us at: 


The information provided is meant as a general guide only rather than advice or assurance. GC Business Growth Hub does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information and professional guidance should be sought on all aspects of business planning and responses to the coronavirus. Use of this guide and toolkit are entirely at the risk of the user. Any hyperlinks from this document are to external resources not connected to the GC Business Growth Hub and The Growth Company is not responsible for the content within any hyperlinked site. 

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