Last night the Prime Minister announced a third national lockdown in England which is likely to last until mid-February. By now everyone of us has been through various Tiers and lockdowns already, but they’ve all had slightly different restrictions. This lockdown is most similar to the March lockdown with a few notable differences.

Below we go through the latest rules and restrictions, as well as the new support available to businesses.

Why are we locking down?

We’re entering this phase because NHS hospitals are at serious risk of being overwhelmed in the next 21 days, according to chief medical officers. As you know, there has been a sharp increase in cases and hospital admissions for Covid patients. The latest set of restrictions is being legally implemented to curb the rise in infections and keep hospitals at a more manageable capacity to care for the sick.

To put this into numbers, when we went into lockdown in November, there were 247 cases per 100,000 people. Now, the rate has more than doubled to 519 cases per 100,000 people. And hospital admissions have now passed April’s peak by 40%, with 3,145 people being admitted on January 2 alone. According to experts, current admissions levels are equivalent to filling 18 hospitals with new Covid patients across 10 days.

How is this different to previous restrictions? Can I go to work?

The current lockdown is most similar in strictness to the first one that came into force at the end of March. However, there are a few significant differences, including that it’s now compulsory to wear a face covering in all indoor public settings. The full government guidance is available here.

In brief, you should only leave home to buy essentials, seek medical help, to escape domestic abuse or work if it’s impossible to work from home. All schools and universities are closed, and restaurants can only offer takeaway food (not alcohol). Outdoor exercise is allowed with anyone in your household or support bubble, or with one person from another household. Outdoor sports venues such as tennis courts and golf courses are now closed.

The advice on going to work is stricter than it has been since the previous lockdown measures were relaxed. Of course, front-line workers and those who work within critical national infrastructure can continue to leave their homes. But for most other jobs, you must only travel to work if you absolutely cannot work from home. The government has confirmed that construction and manufacturing industries are both open and can continue so long as social distancing is strictly in place. Real estate also remains open.

In a significant difference to the first lockdown, existing support bubbles and care groups can meet. We know that school closures are a daunting prospect for many working parents. If childcare is a concern for you then rest assured that you can continue with childcare bubbles and allow carers into your home if you need to work. Playgrounds will also stay open this time round and early years settings such as nurseries and childminders can remain open.

What support am I entitled to?

This morning, Rishi Sunak announced his latest set of financial measures to help support affected businesses. The Treasury has made £46 million available which is expected to benefit over 600,000 business properties across the UK. This is primarily in the form of top up grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, with up to £9,000 available per property.

£594 million has also gone into a discretionary fund to support other impacted businesses. And a further £1.1 billion has been made available to local authorities as part of the Local Restriction Support Grants which are worth up to £3,000 a month. The furlough scheme has also been extended to 30 April to protect jobs in impacted industries.

Don’t forget that government-backed loan schemes, CBILS and BBLS, are also still open for applications until the end of March. At MarketFinance we’re offering £50,001 - £5 million facilities through CBILS to help tide you over this difficult period. You can find out more about the loans and invoice-backed options we cover here.

We’re vaccinating the most vulnerable

It’s not all doom and gloom! The UK is leading Europe in vaccination rates, with more people receiving their first dose than the rest of the continent combined. We started vaccinating the most at risk on 8 December and have already given over 1 million people their first dose of the vaccine. We now have two different vaccines ready to immunize many more vulnerable people. And the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is easier to transport than the Pfizer one as it doesn’t need to be kept at sub-zero temperatures.

Boris Johnson has indicated that there will be 2 million people vaccinated against COVID-19 every week. At this rate, we should have 12 million people (the four most vulnerable groups) in the country given their first dose by mid-February. This counts all older care home residents and their carers, along with everyone over the age of 70 and all frontline health and social care workers.

What this means is that the government is hoping to come out of a national lockdown after the February half-term. In theory, schools should go back on 20 February if all goes to plan and infection rates are significantly lowered. Obviously we can’t be certain that this will happen, but it should give us all a better sense of when the lockdown is likely to end. This will hopefully make business planning easier.

For more information on the latest rules and support measures available, check our COVID-19 Impact Support Hub. We have a number of articles filled with advice for business owners and their advisors.