The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020

In this brief note we provide a short summary of the new Regulations which bring into legal force, the restrictions announced by the Prime Minister on Monday 23 March 2020.  The Regulations as made can be found here. The restrictions broadly follow the guidance on the restrictions which have been widely published concerning the closure of businesses, freedom to leave homes and prohibiting gathering of more than two individuals other than from the same household.

These Regulations came in to force on 26 March 2020 at 13:00 and apply to England only. We do not comment on provisions in force in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland in this summary note.

The Regulations are in force for the “emergency period” and define this as commencing on 26 March 2020 and ending when the Secretary of State publishes an alternative direction.  The restrictions imposed by the Regulations must be reviewed every 21 days, with the first review being on 16 April 2020. The Regulations are due to expire in 6 months.

The previous Regulations which brought about the widely publicised closure of pubs and restaurants (The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closure) (England) Regulations 2020) have been revoked. However, the new Regulations in practice extend the provisions previously in force.

Regulation 4 requires all persons responsible for carrying on certain listed business (cafes, canteens, bars, pubs, and cinemas, theatres, nightclubs, spas, museums, gyms, pools, auction houses amongst others) to close any premises, or part of the premises, to cease carrying out their business or providing their service, for the duration of the emergency period.

This section does not prohibit businesses from providing food that is to be consumed off the premises. Importantly, this restriction does not apply to cafes or canteens at a hospital, care home or school”.

The Regulations stipulate that some businesses which must close their premises can still provide some services such as through other means such as online communication or post.  There are some intricacies for business requested to stay open by the relevant authorities or where providing accommodation e.g. for hotels and hostels. The Regulations are not as straightforward as “all businesses must close”, reflecting the diverse situations which these broad brush measures are intended to capture.

The Regulations also list types of business that can remain open and that people can attend during the emergency period.  For example a range of medical services are permitted to remain open as well as other business such as food retailers, banks and hardware stores. A number of businesses, such as bicycle shops, that may not be immediately obvious as being ones that would be designated as permitted to remain open, have been included.

There are detailed restrictions on movement of people.  As has been well publicised, the message from the Government and NHS is “stay home”. The legal position is that no person can leave the place where they are living without a reasonable excuse.  What is a reasonable excuse will, ultimately, be determined by the Courts. The Regulations whilst providing a list of what will be “a reasonable excuse” is not a complete list.  A “reasonable excuse” includes, but is not limited to, obtaining medical assistance, obtaining food and medical supplies, exercising (alone or with a members of your household), providing care or assistance to a vulnerable person, to donate blood, as well as fulfilling a legal obligation, and to avoid injury or illness.  Further examples of “reasonable excuse” are set out in the Regulations.  However, the clear intention is that the exemptions to the general restriction are intended to be quite narrow.

In addition to the general prohibition on leaving your home, except for a reasonable excuse, the Regulations restrict the gathering of people.  The Regulations limit such gatherings as to no more than two people except where those that are gathering are members of the same household, or gathering for certain expressly permitted activities such as attending work.

The intention behind the restrictions are to save lives by limiting the exposure of individuals to Covid-19.  The police, and others, are authorised to use reasonable force to ensure compliance with the restrictions, and failure to comply could result in a fine.  The Regulations also provide for fixed penalty notices of £30 if any person commits any offence under these Regulations. It states that if someone has already had a fixed penalty notice shall get a second one of £120, and if they commit a third offence the fine will be £960.

These are just one set of a number of recent legislative changes. Hempsons can assist if you require detailed advice on these or other implications from the Covid-19 pandemic.

For further guidance from the Government, please click here.