Phases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) response

In early March 2020 the UK government set out four phases in its response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic:

  • Contain: detect early cases, follow up close contacts, and prevent the disease taking hold in the UK for as long as is reasonably possible
  • Delay: slow the spread in the UK, lowering the peak impact and pushing it away from winter
  • Research: better understand the virus and actions that will lessen its effect on the UK population; innovate responses including diagnostics, drugs and vaccines; and use evidence to inform development of effective models of care
  • Mitigate: provide the best care possible, support hospitals to maintain essential services and ensure ongoing support for people ill in the community to minimise the impact of the virus

The delay phase started on 12 March 2020 when the first self-isolation guidance was announced. This is considered the “start of the restrictions in the UK” and should be referred to as “the start of the delay phase”.

Impact on society and economic activity

We do not expect to see a significant impact on UK society or economic activity in February 2020 data. This period should be referred to as “before restrictions were applied in the UK”.

There is likely to be a significant impact on UK society and economic activity in March and April 2020. This will affect the data for Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2020 and Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2020. There are likely to be multiple effects, particularly on retail, the economy, travel, education and deaths data.

Retail and the economy

People were advised to “avoid” bars, restaurants and other indoor leisure venues on 16 March 2020 in the Prime Minister’s coronavirus statement.  They were subsequently closed temporarily from 20 March 2020 across the UK. This should be referred to as “measures to close entertainment, hospitality and indoor leisure premises”. They have remained closed since lockdown was applied on 23 March 2020, although some are still operating by providing food delivery services or other services.


Schools were closed on 20 March 2020 in each country of the UK, with guidance produced by England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These changes should be referred to as “guidance for schools, childcare providers, colleges and local authorities to close schools to most children”.


Travel may have been affected in February 2020. Statements can reference the “evolving situation around the world”.

Non-essential travel abroad was banned from 17 March 2020 across the UK. This should be referred to as “advice against all non-essential travel abroad”. For more information see the statement on Travel advice against all non-essential travel abroad.

All non-essential travel was banned on 23 March 2020 when the UK lockdown was announced.

Number of COVID-19 cases and deaths

The first UK case of COVID-19 was recorded on 31 January 2020. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the UK passed 100,000 on 20 April 2020.

The first UK death caused by COVID-19 was on 5 March 2020. The total number of deaths caused by or involving COVID-19 in the UK passed 10,000 on 12 April 2020.

A full list of important dates, events and time periods from the coronavirus pandemic, as well as links to the relevant government statements or guidance for each country is available on request by emailing

More information about how to refer to the coronavirus is available in Writing about the coronavirus.

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