Lockdowns 1, 2 and 3: What are the differences, and what are you unable to do?

England has entered its third lockdown after the Prime Minister ordered the country to once again stay at home in an address to the nation on Jan 4. 

The lockdown became law on Jan 6, and people will only be allowed to leave their homes for specific reasons, such as to shop for essential items or exercise. 

Compared to the previous lockdowns, these restrictions resemble those we saw in the first lockdown in March.

The Government have not committed to a timeframe, but it is expected that some restrictions will still be in place in March. 

Here are the key similarities and differences between the three lockdowns: 

Reasons for leaving home

In an announcement that resembled the first lockdown, Boris Johnson reiterated the Government’s first slogan – ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’ – amid a significant rise in hospital admissions.

You may now only go outside to shop for essentials, to visit those in your support bubble, for medical purposes, exercise, and to work, if you are unable to work from home. 

The majority of the public – some 44million – were already living under these restrictions in Tier 4; however, the Prime Minister has now enforced these rules across the whole country. 

They will become legally-binding when Parliament reconvenes on Wednesday. 

These restrictions are also similar to the second lockdown in November before the tier system which saw non-essential shops begin to close.


As seen in the first lockdown, government guidelines say you should only go outside to exercise once a day. 

You can exercise in a public outdoor place:

  • by yourself
  • with the people you live with
  • with your support bubble (if you are legally permitted to form one)
  • in a childcare bubble where providing childcare
  • or, when on your own, with one person from another household
  • Public outdoor places include:

  • parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests
  • public gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them)
  • the grounds of a heritage site
  • playgrounds
  • But, once more, you will not be able to sit down with this person because park benches are again off-limits.

    Also, unlike the March lockdown, the Government has promised to keep playgrounds open, encouraging children to stay active. 

    Gyms and leisure centres will be forced to close throughout the new lockdown, as they did in March, November, and in Tier 4.

    Outdoor sports teams will also be postponed with only elite spots allowed to continue.


    The vulnerable will receive a letter, once again, which instructs them to shield and protect themselves. 

    Mr Johnson announced the Government and local GP’s would advise the vulnerable on what the rules mean for them, saying: "If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, we are advising you to begin shielding again, and you will shortly receive a letter about what this means for you."

    These letters resemble both the March and November lockdown when the vulnerable received a letter of support.

    School closures

    Perhaps the biggest difference between the three lockdowns is the question of school closures.

    The first lockdown saw schools close for everybody except the children of key workers.

    However, in November, schools and other education settings, remain open, meaning many children continued studying as normal. 

    In this current lockdown, all schools and higher education settings such as universities will close as they did in March, so the children of key workers and vulnerable pupils will be allowed to go to school. Other children and students will have to resume remote learn, until at least February, the government has announced. 

    The closures come after scientists warned that school closures were essential to keep the country’s R number below one.

    GCSE, A-Level and AS exams have all been cancelled for this summer, to be replaced by teacher assessments, the Education Secretary has announced.

    Nurseries remain open.

    Takeaway food and alcohol

    Another big change is alcohol.

    All restaurants, bars and other hospitality settings must close their doors once again under measures which are similar to those of the first two lockdowns. 

    But, unlike March and November, the Government has set tighter rules on drink.

    Many enjoyed takeaway pints during the previous two lockdowns.

    So while restaurants can offer food and soft drinks for delivery or takeaway, they will no longer be allowed to sell alcohol, with the Government aiming to prevent people from mixing with alcohol in the streets. 

    Places of worship

    Unlike the measures seen last spring and autumn, places of worship will remain open for prayer, and for weddings and funerals.

    Previously, places of worship were forced to close, with the exception of funerals, or to record a service for a broadcast or live stream. 

    Weddings can only take place under exceptional circumstances, however, funerals can go ahead, and a maximum of 30 people can attend. 

    When will it end?

    Just as the first lockdown, we do not yet know how long these restrictions will stay in place. Mr Johnson suggested he expects the measures to last until mid-February at least.

    However, in a statement to the Commons, the Prime Minister has stated that the timetable to partially lift restrictions will last until March 31, should it pass a vote in the Commons on Jan 6.

    This is different to the November lockdown, when Mr Johnson promised the measures would end one month after the announcement, on Dec 2.

    However, unlike the first two lockdowns, we are now amid the largest vaccination programme in British history, which is the biggest difference between the three. 

    Vaccination locations in England

    Mr Johnson said: "The weeks ahead will be the hardest yet but I really do believe we are entering the last phase of the struggle.

    "Thanks to the miracle of science not only is the end in sight but we know exactly how we will get there."

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