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Coronavirus: local lockdowns

A local lockdown is a partial or full re-imposition of measures to control the spread of the coronavirus in a specific locality.


What is a ‘local lockdown’?

A local lockdown is a partial or full re-imposition of measures to control the spread of the coronavirus in a specific locality, or the deferring of planned easing of restrictions, in response to a localised spike in infections.

Why is the government imposing local lockdowns?

The aim of a local lockdown is to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic by containing it within a particular area and so avoid re-imposing social distancing restrictions across the whole of the country.

The UK and devolved governments brought in regulations restricting freedom of movement and closing a wide range of businesses in late March. From May, the four nations have been gradually easing restrictions while aiming to keep the number of cases at a low level. One of the priorities of the UK government’s recovery plan, published on 11 May, is to prevent new hotspots developing by detecting infection outbreaks at a more localised level and rapidly intervening with targeted measures.

Where have local lockdowns been introduced?

On 29 June, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, announced that the UK’s first local lockdown would be applied in Leicester and parts of Leicestershire. Regulations made by the health secretary to this effect came into force on 4 July.

Local lockdowns have now been introduced by all four governments of the UK across large areas of the country.

What powers are available to implement a local lockdown?

The health secretary and devolved ministers have discretionary power under the Coronavirus Act 2020 to close and restrict access to individual premises.

The UK government can implement a local lockdown in England by making new health protection regulations under the Public Health Act 1984, the legislation under which it enacted the nationwide lockdown on 26 March. On 24 July the government published draft legislation options to quickly implement local restrictions.

The devolved governments can also impose local lockdowns in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively in a similar way using secondary legislation.

On 18 July, local authorities in England gained additional powers to enforce social distancing. They can now direct individual premises and public spaces to close. Previously, local authorities in England had to apply for a court order to close premises or organisations. Local authorities can also place restrictions on individual events or events of a specified description or prevent them from taking place.

Local authorities in England must review any directions issued every seven days and notify the Secretary of State as soon as reasonably practicable. They will have these additional powers until 17 January 2021. These powers have not been introduced in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

What power?

What legislation?

Who exercises it?

Impose restrictions or requirements on persons or groups of persons, premises or things, e.g. restrictions on movement, contact, work Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (s45G, s45I, s45J)

Magistrates, on the application of a local authority.


The UK government, but only if it enacts further Health Protection Regulations.


Local authorities, but only if the UK government enacts further Health Protection Regulations to give them new powers.
Close or otherwise restrict access to individual premises or public outdoor places The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020

The secretary of state

Local authorities
Request that individuals or groups do anything for health protection purposes  Health Protection (Local Authority Powers) Regulations 2010 (Para 8) Local authorities can make the request but it can be refused. Not binding without an application to the magistrates under the 1984 Act above.
Keep a child from school Health Protection (Local Authority Powers) Regs 2010 (Para 2) Local authorities 
Enforcement of health and safety legislation, including employers’ duties to avoid risks to health from their premises Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (ss2-4, read with ss18-25) Local authorities and the Health and Safety Executive
Isolate or otherwise restrict the movements, activities or contacts of people who are tested/assessed as potentially infectious by a public health officer Coronavirus Act 2020 (Schedule 21) Local authorities and any other public health officers designated by the UK government
Close schools and other educational institutions

Coronavirus Act 2020 (Schedule 16)

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020

UK government or, if ministers authorise local authorities, then local authorities

In England from 18 July, local authorities can direct individual schools or other educational institutions to close without ministerial authorisation

Prohibit or otherwise restrict events or gatherings of a specified description, or close or otherwise restrict premises of a specified description

Coronavirus Act 2020 (Schedule 22)

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020

UK government

Local authorities

Close or otherwise restrict premises of a specified description

Coronavirus Act 2020 (Schedule 22)

UK government

How are local outbreaks assessed? 

Data on the local infection rate and concentration of cases is gathered by the NHS test and trace programme, which was launched on 27 May, and assessed by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) together with Public Health England (PHE) and NHS bodies. Local authorities have access to postcode-level data about the number of positive cases. Directors of public health, who are appointed by local authorities, can also report outbreaks.

Reports from the JBC, PHE and directors of public health are assessed daily by the government’s Local Action Committee Command. Issues of concern are raised through this structure to the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, and, as necessary, to the health secretary.

How are decisions on local lockdowns made?

In England, unitary metropolitan councils and county councils with a high number of cases or a rising rate of increase of cases are designated to one of three categories, allowing regional and national resources to be provided to support local authorities when needed:

  • ‘Areas of concern’;
  • ‘Areas of enhanced support’ – where additional resources, such as mobile testing capacity may be provided;
  • ‘Areas of intervention’ - where additional restrictions such as the closure of premises may be introduced.

Local authorities in England in ‘areas of concern’ and ‘areas of enhanced support’ can close individual premises and public spaces. Local authorities have also been given resources to conduct localised contract tracing programmes.

More stringent restrictions can only be introduced through regulations made by central government. In England, regulations are made following consideration by the COVID-Operations Committee, which is attended by relevant ministers of state, the Chief Medical Officer, and senior civil servants.

What are the challenges to implementation?

The first lockdown in Leicester has illustrated the challenges of implementing local measures from the centre.

The local authorities in Leicester have stated that there was insufficient consultation and data-sharing. The regulations to enforce the lockdown in Leicester had not been published by the time the new rules were due to come into force on 30 June. A day prior to the start of the lockdown, the local council did not know which areas would be affected by the new rules.

There is a risk that local lockdowns could be seen as unfair or illegitimate. This issue was raised in a paper prepared for the security sub-group of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) on 23 April[1].

Alongside the legal powers available to national and local authorities, there will need to be a major communications effort to persuade people of the reasons for additional restrictions and to explain clearly what they are.


Institute for Government

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