Circuit breaker

A circuit breaker is a strict set of restrictions that could be introduced for a fixed period of time, for example, a minimum of two weeks. It is designed to help slow down the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in local communities. 

A circuit breaker would include a ban on household mixing and non-essential travel as well as the closure of non-essential shops and hospitality. In Wales, a circuit breaker has been called a firebreak

Circuit breaker should be lower case and two words.

Coronavirus and COVID-19

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in people and animals. They can cause the common cold or more severe diseases, such as COVID-19. COVID-19 refers to the “coronavirus disease 2019” and is a disease that can affect the lungs and airways. It is caused by a type of coronavirus.

Coronavirus is lower case unless at the start of a sentence. Refer to “the coronavirus (COVID-19)” in the first instance of each section of your article or bulletin.

“Coronavirus” should be used for all subsequent uses in a section when referring to the virus and the pandemic in general. It should also include the article “the”. For example, “the coronavirus pandemic” and “effects of the coronavirus on the economy”.

“COVID-19” should be used for all subsequent uses in a section when referring to the specific disease. For example, “there was an increase in registered deaths involving COVID-19”.

Questionnaires and respondent materials should use “coronavirus (COVID-19)” for all instances.

Deaths and COVID-19

We need to be clear when talking about deaths and the coronavirus (COVID-19) whether the disease was the underlying cause of death or not. Use the phrases “deaths caused by COVID-19” or “COVID-19 deaths” only when referring to deaths with an underlying cause of death as COVID-19. Only use the phrase “deaths due to COVID-19” when referring to how it is written on the death certificate, but try to avoid the phrase “due to” where possible (see Words to watch).

Use the phrase “deaths involving COVID-19” when referring to deaths that had COVID-19 mentioned anywhere on the death certificate, whether as an underlying cause or not. 

Eat Out to Help Out

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme was introduced in the summer of 2020 to give people a 50% discount when they ate in at restaurants that were registered with the scheme. It ran every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday between 3 and 31 August 2020 and could be used multiple times. It offered a 50% discount on food and non-alcoholic drinks when eating in (up to a maximum discount of £10 discount per diner).

Use “Eat Out to Help Out” and do not abbreviate.

Extended households

Two separate households have been able to join together to form an extended household. This allows the households to act as a single household, meaning that they do not need to follow social distancing rules and can have close contact with each other (see also Support bubble).

The guidance for each country of the UK on extended households is different and has changed throughout the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic depending on the restrictions in place.


In Wales, the term “firebreak” has been used to describe a circuit breaker lockdown. A firebreak involves a strict set of restrictions for a fixed period of time, for example, two weeks. This is to help slow down the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in local communities and bring the number of cases down.

A firebreak lockdown was introduced in Wales only on Friday 23 October 2020 (from 6pm) for two weeks. Restrictions were eased on Monday 9 November 2020 and replaced with national restrictions. 

Firebreak should be lower case and one word.

Job Retention Scheme

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was introduced by the UK government to support employers and businesses as part of its response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This allowed all UK employers with employees on a Pay As You Earn (PAYE) scheme to designate some or all employees as “furloughed workers”. See Furlough for more information.

The scheme allows employers to access government support to continue paying 80% of their furloughed employees’ salaries, and potentially protect their employees from redundancy.

The first phase of the scheme finished at the end of June 2020 and a second flexible phase ran between June and October 2020. The scheme has now been extended into a third phase from November 2020 to March 2021.

Use upper case and write in full where possible. Avoid using the abbreviation CJRS where possible.


Furlough generally means a temporary leave of absence from work. The employee remains employed with the business and on the payroll but does not work. This term has been used during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to refer to employees that have been furloughed as they cannot work because of lockdown restrictions.

The UK government has provided financial support to employers and businesses through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, also known as the Furlough Scheme. This has allowed businesses that have been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic to furlough their staff. When furloughed, an employee receives 80% of their current salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2,500.

Under the more flexible second and third phases of the Furlough Scheme, employees may either stop working completely or work reduced hours while furloughed.

Local lockdowns and restrictions

Local lockdowns or restrictions apply to a particular local authority or local council area. Each country of the UK introduced its own set of restrictions to manage the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in local areas when the rates of infection began to increase after the summer of 2020. 


In England, a three-tier COVID Alert Level system was introduced on 14 October 2020 to help control the spread of the coronavirus in local areas. This included Tier 1 (medium), Tier 2 (high) and Tier 3 (very high), with increasing restrictions depending on the alert level for the area. This system was replaced by national lockdown restrictions for England on 5 November 2020.

Use “Tier” when referring to a specific COVID Alert Level category in England but use lower case “tier” when referring to multiple categories or in general use.


In Wales, local restrictions were introduced in local authority areas with a high or rising number of cases to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. These local lockdowns were introduced from September 2020 for varying amounts of time depending on the local area. These measures were replaced with the firebreak restrictions on 23 October 2020 and have since been replaced with national restrictions on 9 November 2020.

Use the phrase “local restrictions” when referring to local measures used in Wales.


In Scotland, a five-tier COVID-19 local protection levels system was introduced on 2 November 2020. Local areas that are categorised as protection level 0 have the lowest levels of restrictions, while protection level 4 areas have the highest levels of restrictions. More detail on Scotland’s COVID-19 protection levels by area system is available. 

Use “protection level” in lower case when referring to categories of restrictions in Scotland. These protection levels are sometimes also referred to as “tiers” in lower case but try to be consistent.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, a national set of restrictions was introduced on 16 October 2020 for a period of four weeks. Prior to this, local restrictions were in place for certain areas.

See Lockdown for information on the first national lockdown on 23 March 2020.


Lockdown is the shutting down of all non-essential activities to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). It can include:

  • people being asked to work from home or stay at home if they cannot work remotely
  • closure of all non-essentials shops, pubs, bars, restaurants and hospitality
  • closure of gyms, leisure centres and local council services
  • travel restrictions on entering or leaving an area or country as well as travelling abroad
  • banning of mass gatherings such as sports or music events as well as restrictions on weddings and funerals
  • restrictions on mixing with other households, both inside and outside
  • curfews and early closures

There have been various national and local lockdowns applied in the different countries of the UK, with varying restrictions and for different time periods. Please see the latest guidance for each country of the UK for the latest restrictions:

The first national lockdown was introduced on 23 March 2020. This formed the basis for each nation’s stay at home guidance. Specific stay at home guidance for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was available. The lockdown restrictions were lifted on different dates in each of the countries of the UK.

Stay at home should be written in sentence case in line with GOV.UK house style.

A second four-week lockdown was introduced in England only on Thursday 5 November 2020, ending on Wednesday 2 December 2020. More detail on the lockdown restrictions for England is available.

See Local lockdown and restrictions for more detailed information on the restrictions in each UK country’s local authority or local council areas.


The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) defines long COVID as “signs and symptoms that develop during or following an infection consistent with COVID-19, which continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis”.

When referring to long COVID:

  • do not capitalise the word “long” unless at the start of a sentence
  • always use upper case for the word “COVID”
  • do not add the number “19” as you would when writing “COVID-19”

Long COVID is sometimes referred to as post-COVID syndrome. For consistency, use long COVID.

New variants of the coronavirus

In December 2020, a new variant of the coronavirus (COVID-19) was found to be spreading in the UK, particularly in the South East and London. This was previously referred to as the “new virus variant” in line with GOV.UK, but with the emergence of other variants, this should now be referred to as the “UK variant”. It is sometimes also referred to as VOC 1 (variant of concern 1) or the Kent variant.

In early 2021, another new variant of the coronavirus was found to be spreading in the UK, known as the South African variant, also known as VOC 2 (variant of concern 2). This should be referred to as the “South African variant”.

Outbreak or pandemic?

Use the term “pandemic” when referring to the coronavirus (COVID-19) rather than “outbreak”.

A pandemic is where a disease is prevalent over a whole country or the world and so is more accurate than outbreak, which refers to increases of a disease in a particular time or place. The World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a pandemic on 11 March 2020.

Avoid using the phrase “pre-pandemic”. See Pre-coronavirus, pre-pandemic and pre-lockdown.


Similar to lockdown, quarantine is a period of isolation that prevents the movement of people to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Some areas of northern Italy were placed into quarantine early on in the pandemic in an attempt to contain COVID-19. 

Quarantine is also sometimes used to refer to the period of self-isolation that people must undergo when returning from abroad. If a person returns to the UK from a country that is not on the list of exempt countries, they must self-isolate for 14 days.

Pre-coronavirus, pre-pandemic and pre-lockdown

“Pre-coronavirus” can be used for talking about time periods before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Avoid using the phrases “pre-pandemic” and “pre-lockdown” as these are not clear and may lead to misinterpretation of the data. The “start” of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may also be subjective or have a different meaning or impact for different topics. Be as clear and specific as possible when referring to time periods.

When referring to the period before the coronavirus pandemic, use:

  • the exact dates if you are talking about a specific and clear time period or event, for example, “before the national lockdown started on 23 March 2020”
  • the month, such as “February 2020” if you are talking about the first full month before the effects of COVID-19 were seen in the UK
  • “early 2020” for a more general time period relating to the months before the pandemic

Rather than using “pre-lockdown”, either state the month you are talking about or use “before the national lockdown in March 2020” to make it clear what date you are talking about.

The level of GDP output remains below the levels seen in early 2020, before the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) were seen.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) is made up of four taxable government grants for self-employed individuals. The first three grants have all now closed. These grants are lump sums rather than paid as a monthly salary. For those that qualify, the grants are based on average profits from the past three tax years.

This is different to furlough and should be referred to as “support for the self-employed”, “self-employed support” or “self-employed support grants”.

The term furlough should only be used to refer to those who are employed by an employer and meet various qualifying dates and criteria, for example, on a Pay As You Earn (PAYE) roll by 30 October 2020.


Self-isolation is a form of social distancing for people who have symptoms of the coronavirus (COVID-19). People who have tested positive or have come into close contact with someone who has had a positive test for COVID-19 are required by law to self-isolate for 10 days or 14 days respectively when told to do so. This means staying at home and not having any contact with others outside of their household.

People returning from countries abroad may also be required to self-isolate for 14 days if the country they are travelling from is not on the list of exempt countries. This period of self-isolation is also sometimes called quarantine.

“Self-isolation” should be lower case and hyphenated.


Shielding was introduced in the UK in March 2020 at the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The shielding guidance advised those most at risk of serious harm from COVID-19 to stay at home to protect themselves. It applied to people, including children, who are clinically extremely vulnerable to developing serious illness if they are exposed to COVID-19 because they have a particular serious underlying health condition. 

Specific shielding guidance for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was published. People were asked to stop shielding in August 2020 and to instead follow the national rules and restrictions.

Refer to “those who were shielding” and the “shielding guidance”.

Social distancing

Social distancing refers to the measures taken to prevent the spread of a contagious disease by maintaining a physical distance between people. Social distancing was introduced in March 2020 to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) by reducing the number of times people come into close contact with each other. The general rule has been to stay two metres apart from those outside of your household.

Use lower case and refer to these as “social distancing measures” when talking about the introduction of the rules.


Support bubble

A support bubble is a close support network that can be formed between a household of any size and a household with either: 

  • only one adult 
  • one adult and one or more people who were under the age of 18 on 12 June 2020 in the home (known as a single-adult household) 

Once a support bubble is formed, the households can act as a single household and can have close contact with each other.

Test and trace

Each country of the UK has introduced its own test and trace service to help stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). These are:

When referring to a specific country’s test and trace service or programme, use upper case. Use lower case for general use.

When contacted by the test and trace service, the person will be asked to self-isolate if they have been in contact with a confirmed positive case of COVID-19.

See further detail on different events and time periods in the pandemic.

Vaccines and vaccinations 

Vaccines are substances that stimulate the immune system into producing immunity to a specific disease. 

Vaccination is the act of administering a vaccine into the body. 

Immunisation is the process whereby someone becomes protected against a disease after they have been vaccinated. It is often used interchangeably with vaccination. For consistency, use vaccination. 

Vaccines against the coronavirus (COVID-19) should be referred to as “COVID-19 vaccines”.  

When discussing COVID-19 vaccines in general, use “a COVID-19 vaccine” rather than “the COVID-19 vaccine”. This is because there are multiple types of vaccines and so we need to make it clear we are talking about all vaccines. 

Only refer to a specific type of COVID-19 vaccine by name if you need to make the distinction between the vaccine types clear. There are currently three COVID-19 vaccines being administered in the UK: 

  • Moderna  
  • Pfizer-BioNTech 
  • Oxford-AstraZeneca 

When discussing vaccine doses, refer to them as the first dose and the second dose. 

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was approved for use in January 2021. 

More than 23,000 people have received the first dose of their vaccine.  

The number of people receiving their vaccinations has doubled. 

Vaccination centres have been set up across the UK.