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 January or February 2020 data. This period should be referred to as “before restrictions were applied in the UK” or “pre-coronavirus”.

There is likely to be a significant impact on UK society and economic activity in quarterly and annual data for 2020. This will affect the data for Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2020, Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2020, Quarter 3 (July to Sept) and Quarter 4 (Oct to Dec) 2020, as national and local restrictions have been imposed and reduced throughout the year because of changes in the infection rate. There are likely to be multiple effects, particularly on retail, the economy, travel, education and deaths data. 

View our lockdown and local lockdowns and restrictions guidance for more detail on what restrictions were introduced in each country of the UK.

Retail, hospitality 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 remained closed for several weeks after the first national lockdown was applied on 23 March 2020, although some were still operating by providing food delivery services or other services. 

Businesses began to reopen in the summer as restrictions were slowly lifted in each country of the UK (although at different times) as the infection rates fell, but with social distancing and additional safety measures introduced. As cases started to rise again in the autumn, national and local restrictions were introduced in each UK country at different times to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. This meant that many businesses had to close once again.

During these periods of closure, many staff were placed on furlough under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Education

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”. 

Many parents across the UK home-schooled their children between March and June 2020, with schools and teachers providing remote education and online learning resources. Most exams were cancelled and many children returned to school part-time for the final few weeks of the school term in June 2020 but this differed across each country of the UK.

In September 2020, all children from all year groups returned to school for the autumn term and essential safety measures and restrictions were put in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in schools. 

Schools have been required to stay open for the autumn term, with a mixture of face-to-face, online and blended learning taking place where pupils or year groups have been required to self-isolate.

Travel

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 first UK lockdown was announced.

Since then, the travel industry has been significantly affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with many cancellations and restrictions on travel both abroad and within the UK. 

Travel corridors

In summer 2020, when restrictions were eased across the UK as the infection rates fell, “travel corridors” were introduced. These allowed people to safely travel to other countries or areas with low infection rates, without the need to self-isolate on their return home. 

The travel corridors lists for each country of the UK are updated frequently and countries, territories and regions are regularly added and removed from these lists. People have still been able to travel to other countries not on the lists, but are then required to self-isolate for 14 days on their return. These measures should be referred to as “travel restrictions” and “restrictions on travelling abroad” and are likely to have an impact on travel data for 2020.

Festive period

On 20 December 2020, London and the South East of England were moved into Tier 4 as a new variant of COVID-19 began to spread in the UK. This requires people to stay at home, only travel for essential purposes, and prevents people from entering or leaving a Tier 4 area. At the same time:

View the latest travel advice for England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland if you need to refer to it in your bulletin or article.

First 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. The UK death toll in hospitals passed 20,000 on 27 April 2020.

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

Next section: Titles, summaries and keywords