Under new coronavirus laws coming into force next week, anyone leaving the UK without a reasonable excuse could face a fine of £5,000.
There is also a £200 fixed penalty notice for failing to fill in a travel declaration form – giving person details and reason for travel – for those planning to leave the country.
The catchily-titled Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021, come into force on March 29.
So what counts as a reasonable excuse? And are you going to be stuck on this increasingly and tiringly-familiar island of ours for the foreseeable future? Fortunately the answer to that is: Not necessarily.
First of all, the travel ban does not apply to those going to the common travel area of the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland unless that is not the final destination.
So a trip that crosses at least a little bit of sea is doable.
Exemptions also apply including for:
- those needing to travel for work
- those needing to travel for study
- students returning home during the Easter holiday
- those needing to travel for legal obligations or
- those needing to travel to vote
- if you are moving, selling or renting property
- for some childcare reasons
- to be present at a birth
- to visit a dying relative or close friend
- to attend a funeral
- for those getting married or to attend the wedding of a close relative
- for medical appointments
- to escape a risk of harm
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, who deciphers the lockdown rules on Twitter for the public, said: “Previously, the ‘holiday ban’ which the government had advertised was assumed rather than explicit – because going on holiday wasn’t a reasonable excuse, it was assumed you couldn’t be outside of your home to do so. But now it is explicit.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the ban on leaving the UK without a reasonable excuse, included in new coronavirus laws coming into force next week, had not changed the road map plans for international travel.
He told Sky News the global travel taskforce would report its findings by the middle of April, with May 17 the earliest possible date in the road map for international travel without a reasonable excuse.
Hancock added: “Now, having said all of that, it is now too early to know where the global travel taskforce will come out and know what the decision will be for May 17.
“The reason for that is that we are seeing this third wave rising in some parts of Europe and we’re also seeing new variants.
“It is very important that we protect the progress that we have been able to make here in the UK.”
Protests will once again be a permitted exception to rules banning group gatherings under the laws if it is organised by a business, public or political body or other group and as long as organisers take the “required precautions”, which is likely to include measures like ensuring people wear face masks and are socially distanced.
It comes after campaigners, MPs and peers called on ministers to make clear protests were permitted amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at human rights group Liberty, said: “It is welcome that the next stage of lockdown contains the explicit exemption we’ve been calling for – this should have remained in place throughout the current lockdown, and it is unacceptable for it to wait until next week.”
The regulations, which will be voted on by parliament on Thursday, essentially replace the previous tier system with a series of “steps”, following the proposed dates of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown for England.
Step 1, from March 29, permits up to six people meeting outdoors but restricts indoor gatherings of two or more people. Some outdoor sports are permitted.
Step 2, which could come into effect from April 12, is when non-essential shops might reopen as well as businesses like hairdressers and hospitality venues serving customers outside. Weddings and wakes could then have up to 15 people.
Step 3, which the Government said may come into force from May 17, allows groups of six to meet inside and up to 30 people outside.
The need for the restrictions must be reviewed by April 12, and at least once every 35 days thereafter, the legal papers say.
The laws expire on June 30, unless they are scrapped or amended in the meantime.