Coronavirus

Coronavirus: Know your rights

There’s been a lot of confusion around the changing coronavirus rules. How are the rules changing as of 30 November? What can the police do? What can we do if we’re questioned, fined or arrested? Our coronavirus advice and information hub has you covered.

To help deal with the public health emergency caused by coronavirus, the Government has made restrictions which have affected the way we live our lives. The rules continue to change regularly and at short notice.

There have been a lot of confusing and contradictory messages about the rules. Many people are unsure about what is and what isn’t allowed.

To help clear this up, we’ve created an explainer of what you can and can’t do.

The below regulations only apply in England. Different rules apply in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

What are the current Coronavirus rules?

We have produced a brief explanation of the main Coronavirus rules in place in England. See our in-depth articles for more information.

Face coverings / face masks

You are required to wear face masks on public transport and in a lot of indoor public settings. It is a criminal offence if you do not comply with this requirement, and you may be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for a first offence (this will be reduced to £100 if you pay within 14 days). This amount will double for a second offence to £400. It doubles again for a third offence to £800. This continues to £6,400 for a sixth offence.

There are exceptions for children aged 10 or younger, people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness, impairment, or disability, and where the putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause severe distress. Certain officials are also exempt, as are employees when they are not in a public facing area.

For full details on the new rules, see our face coverings page.

Self-isolation

On 28 September 2020, regulations came into force for people who have tested positive for coronavirus and their contacts. These are currently still in effect. They were briefly strengthened in relation to the Omicron variant, but have now been relaxed again.

You can find our article on self-isolation here.

If you are notified by NHS Test and Trace that you have tested positive, you are required to self-isolate in your home (or certain other permitted locations) for 10 days and are only allowed to leave that place during that period where certain exceptions apply.

Government guidance has since stated that this can be reduced to five days for either vaccinated or unvaccinated people, if the person takes lateral flow tests on days four and five and tests negative in both of these.

If you are notified by NHS Test and Trace that you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, and you are not fully vaccinated, you are required to self-isolate in your home (or certain other permitted locations) for 10 days and are only allowed to leave that place during that period where certain exceptions apply.

If you are notified by NHS Test and Trace that you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, and you are fully vaccinated, then you are not generally required to self-isolate, but you are advised to take a PCR test.

It is a criminal offence to break these rules and you can be given a fine of £1,000 for your first offence.

Travelling into England

If you have travelled to England from a red list country, there are strict requirements, including taking a coronavirus test before you arrive in the UK and staying a “quarantine hotel” when you do arrive. However, there are currently no countries on the red list. See here for further information.

If you have travelled from a non-red list country, the requirements are different depending on whether you have been vaccinated or not.

If you are fully vaccinated and are travelling to the UK from a non-red list country, you need:

  1. to fill out a passenger locator form
  2. carry evidence of your vaccination status
  3. book and take a ‘Day 2’ PCR test when you return.

You do not need to initially self-isolate. However, if you test positive you must self-isolate according to the normal self-isolation rules above. You do not need to book or take a ‘Day 8’ test.

If you are not fully vaccinated and are travelling to the UK from a non-red list country, then you are required to:

  1. take a coronavirus test before you arrive in the UK,
  2. fill out a passenger locator form,
  3. book and take a ‘Day 2’ and ‘Day 8’ PCR test when you return
  4. self-isolate in your own home (or another suitable place) for 10 days (unless you use the “Test to Release” scheme, which allows you to leave self-isolation early).

Under 18s only have to follow the same rules as fully vaccinated travellers when they return from non-red list countries, whether they have been vaccinated or not, meaning they will need to take a ‘Day 2’ PCR test and self-isolate until they get a negative test result.

People who have medical exemptions from vaccination will also be able to follow the same rules as fully vaccinated travellers, as long as they have their exemption confirmed by their GP before travelling. See our advice page here to see how to show your medical exemption status.

Businesses

All businesses are allowed to open as normal.

There is  government guidance on the safest way to run businesses in different industries, but be aware that these are not legal requirements. However, employers still have legal duties under health and safety law to keep their employees and other people affected by their business safe, and this will generally require them to carry out risk assessments and to take steps to minimise the risks posed by coronavirus.

Additionally,  certain types of businesses (such as nightclubs) are required to use the NHS Covid Pass as a condition of entry. This is a way of checking whether a person has been double vaccinated or has had a recent negative coronavirus test. Other businesses can also choose to have their own policies which reject entry to those who refuse to use this system.

Can I still get an FPN for anything under the new Coronavirus rules?

Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) have been the most common enforcement tool used during the coronavirus pandemic. As most requirements have been repealed, their use has dropped significantly. However, the coronavirus rules which are still  in place can be enforced through FPNs:

  • The travel regulations can be enforced through FPNs. For example, if you are travelling into England you are required to book a day 2 test (and a day 8 test if you are unvaccinated). If you do not, you can be fined £1,000 for a first offence. See our travelling articles for more details.
  • The Test and Trace system is still in place. This means that if you test positive then you are still required to self-isolate. If you do not comply with these requirements, you can be fined £1,000 for a first offence, up to £10,000 for a fourth offence.

See our article on police powers for more information.

What is the Coronavirus Act 2020 and has it been repealed?

In addition to the various health protection regulations listed above, the Government also introduced an Act of Parliament – the Coronavirus Act 2020, on 25 March 2020. This changed the law in a number of different areas in response to the pandemic.

In October 2021, the government revoked parts of this Act, including some of the powers relating to ‘potentially infectious people’ and the enhanced powers to restrict events.

The Act should expire in March 2022. However, for now, many of its powers remain. In addition, the government have the power to extend that expiration date.

Liberty responded to the most recent changes here.

Where can I find government guidance on the rules?

The government has produced extensive guidance about different elements of life under Coronavirus regulations. It is recommended that you follow this guidance to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus.

It should be noted that guidance is not the same as law. You cannot be fined or arrested for failing to follow guidance. Only the rules found in the regulations and the Act are enforceable by fines or arrest.

What about speeches made by the Prime Minister and other Cabinet ministers?

The Prime Minister and other Government ministers have made a number of speeches and public statements about what you can and can’t do, and what the Government is planning to do in future.

Advice that is set out in speeches by either the Prime Minister or Cabinet ministers is not law. To be as sure as you can be, we recommend checking this page regularly as we update it to reflect the current law.

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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