The UK’s Covid timeline: key dates in the pandemic

Today marks two years since Boris Johnson announced the first national lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home,” said the prime minister, in a televised address on 23 March 2020. People were told they could only leave the house to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work when it was “absolutely necessary”, to shop for essential items and fulfil any medical or care needs.

At that stage, the number of deaths with Covid-19 on the death certificate had reached around 200. It now stands at more than 186,000.

Here is a detailed timeline of the outbreak.

31 December 2019

The first reports of a mystery virus in Wuhan begin to spread across the world. Chinese authorities say they are investigating 27 cases but are unable to confirm the cause of the disease.

12 January 2020

China publicly shares the genetic sequence of Covid-19. A day later, the first recorded case outside of China is reported in Thailand.

18 January 2020

After carrying out their own research, scientists at Imperial College London claim the emerging virus is greater than the official figures in China suggest. Disease outbreak scientist Professor Neil Ferguson says it is “too early to be alarmist” but that he is “substantially more concerned” than a week ago.

31 January 2020

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, confirms that two patients in England have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

26 February 2020

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advises the government that restricting activities outside the household other than school and work would delay the peak of the coronavirus outbreak by three to five weeks and reduce overall cases by 50% to 60%.

It reiterates that school closures are unlikely to contain an outbreak, but could reduce the peak, if enacted early enough.

The advisory group also suggests that isolating suspected cases and quarantining households which have been in contact with suspected cases for 13 weeks could delay the peak of an outbreak and could reduce it by around 25%.

27 February 2020

Whitty tells the media that mass gatherings such as sports events and concerts may have to be cancelled, and schools closed for more than two months, if the UK is hit badly by coronavirus, reports The Guardian.

Two days later, Health Minister Edward Argar tells BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “decisions on large events and whether they should go ahead will be taken at the time on the basis of the evidence.” 

3 March 2020

Sage writes: “There was agreement that Government should advise against greetings such as shaking hands and hugging, given existing evidence about the importance of hand hygiene.”

The same day, reports The Guardian, Johnson tells a press conference broadcast on national television: “I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.”

The government launches the “contain” phase of its coronavirus action plan, described as “detect early cases, follow up close contacts, and prevent the disease taking hold in this country for as long as is reasonably possible”.

4 March 2020

The scientific advice published by the government says that cancelling large-scale public events wouldn’t contain the outbreak.

Sage advises the government that introducing social distancing measures could potentially decrease the total number of deaths by around 20% to 25%, and substantially reduce the peak of the infection.

10-13 March 2020

Cheltenham Festival starts on 10 March. The following day, Liverpool FC play Atletico Madrid at home, bringing thousands of Spanish fans to the UK.

A video posted on Johnson’s twitter feed a few hours before kick-off shows Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, saying that “expert modellers” have found large events are not seen as “something that will have a big effect”.

On 12 March, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, tells the BBC’s Today programme that other countries’ “eye-catching” restrictions on mass gatherings were done to reassure the public, not because of scientific reasons.

16 March 2020

Modellers at Imperial College London find critical care capacity in the UK will be overwhelmed by the coronavirus outbreak and 250,000 people will die unless social distancing protocols are put in place.

That afternoon, Johnson advises the public to avoid unnecessary contact and travel, and stay away from pubs and theatres.

“Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel. We need people to start working from home where they possibly can. And you should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues,” he says. Pubs and restaurants are ordered to shut four days later.

18 March 2020

The government announces the closure of all schools until further notice.

23 March 2020

Previous advice on social distancing now becomes legally mandatory. The UK lockdown is announced by Johnson on national television. The furlough scheme is announced.

“From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home,” says the prime minister.

26 March 2020

Harries rejects World Health Organisation advice to “test, test, test”, suggesting the WHO advice is aimed at less economically advanced countries, it is “not an appropriate mechanism as we go forward”.

Yvonne Doyle, director of health protection for Public Health England, tells a health select committee hearing the “ship had sailed” on contact tracing by mid-March.

2 April 2020

Health Secretary Matt Hancock pledges that the government will carry out 100,000 coronavirus tests by the end of the month.

6 April 2020

The government admits that none of the 17.5 million coronavirus antibody tests it has bought work, reports the Financial Times.

30 April 2020

NHS England warns that members of the workforce from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds could face greater risk from coronavirus, adding that GP practices should assess these factors in light of “emerging data”.

5 May 2020

The UK surpasses Italy to become the country with the highest declared death toll in Europe, with more than 32,000 fatalities.

10 May 2020

Johnson unveils his new “stay alert” slogan, which replaces the original “stay home” message. 

Political leaders in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland stick with the old slogan amid concerns that the new message is ambiguous, an opinion shared by communications and PR experts, says PRWeek.

13 May 2020

The PM urges people who are unable to work from home to go back to their jobs, while maintaining social distancing. 

People are allowed out of their houses for unlimited exercise and to meet one other person outdoors, as long as they stay 2m away. Garden centres reopen.

22 May 2020

Quarantine measures are announced, requiring people arriving in the UK to self-isolate for 14 days from 8 June to help slow the spread of coronavirus. Travellers will need to tell the government where they will quarantine, with enforcement through random spot checks and £1,000 fines in England.

The government is also plunged into crisis over the behaviour of senior adviser Dominic Cummings, who breached lockdown measures during a trip to Castle Barnard, near Durham.

1 June 2020

Despite a row with teaching unions, the government reopens schools for all reception, year one and year six pupils. 

“Groups of six people are now allowed to meet in parks and even in people’s back gardens,” the i newspaper reports.

10 June 2020

As the UK death toll tops 40,000, Professor Neil Ferguson, who quit his role as a scientific adviser to the government in May, tells the Science and Technology Committee that deaths would have been 50% lower if lockdown had been introduced a week earlier.

On the same day, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts that Britain will suffer more economic damage than any other country in the developed world.

13 June 2020

The first “social bubble” scheme is announced, in which single person households are allowed to meet and stay overnight with another household. It means single grandparents or couples living in separate households are able to meet and stay indoors for the first time in weeks.

15 June 2020

Non-essential shops reopen in England, along with zoos, safari parks and places of worship. Rules are introduced ordering passengers to wear face masks on public transport in England.

18 June 2020

The government is forced to perform a U-turn over its tracing app and to work with tech giants Apple and Google.

23 June 2020

The prime minister announces that from 4 July, social distancing rules will be relaxed to a “one-metre plus” rule as pubs, cinemas and restaurants will reopen.

29 June 2020

Following a spike in cases in Leicester, the health secretary announces the reintroduction of stricter lockdown measures for the city.

3 July 2020

The UK government publishes a list of 59 countries for which quarantine will not apply for people arriving back in England. They include Greece, France, Belgium and Spain, but Portugal and the US are among those not on the list. 

4 July 2020

The Health Protection Regulations 2020 come into force in England, replacing and relaxing the previous lockdown regulations and giving the secretary of state powers to make declarations restricting access to public outdoor places.

8 July 2020

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils a £30bn spending package aimed at mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic, including a temporary reduction in VAT for the hospitality sector, a scheme to pay firms £1,000 for each employee brought back from furlough and a temporary rise in the stamp duty threshold.

15 July 2020

Johnson commits to an “independent inquiry” into the coronavirus pandemic, but adds that now was not the right time for an investigation.

“Of course we will seek to learn the lessons of this pandemic in the future and certainly we will have an independent inquiry into what happened,” he tells MPs.

25 July 2020

With little warning, the UK government confirms travellers returning to England from Spain will be required to quarantine for 14 days, after a rise in cases there.

13 August 2020

The government confirms that France will be removed from the UK’s travel corridor after a surge in cases, leaving British holidaymakers with 30 hours to make it home and avoid 14 days of mandatory isolation.

On A-level results day teachers have almost 40% of their A-level assessments downgraded due to an algorithm that used schools’ past performances to help determine their students’ grades.

18 August 2020

Hancock confirms that Public Health England, the body tasked with shaping England’s coronavirus response, will be scrapped and replaced with a new organisation with a central focus on external threats to public health, such as pandemics.

22 August 2020

In response to an uptick in illegal raves, the government says fines of up to £10,000 will be handed out to those caught organising unlawful gatherings.

29 August 2020

Anti-lockdown protesters, as well as anti-vaccination campaigners and coronavirus sceptics, stage a rally in Trafalgar Square demanding restrictions be eased.

11 September 2020

The R value, which measures the virus’s ability to spread, rises above 1 across the UK for the first time since early March.

14 September 2020

Social gatherings of more than six people are made illegal in England as the government seeks to curb the rise in coronavirus cases.

24 September 2020

More than one million people download the government’s new contact-tracing app for England and Wales within its first day of release. The app instructs users to self-isolate for 14 days if it detects they were nearby someone who has the virus.

Sky News, however, reports that within just a handful of days, the app’s developers admitted it had not been able to link more than 60,000 coronavirus tests carried out in England on Friday – just under a third of the total – to its systems.

28 September 2020

The global tally hits one million deaths. The UK is at 42,000 deaths and 441,000 cases.

29 September 2020

The UK records 7,143 confirmed coronavirus cases in 24 hours, the highest total since 1 July. A new lockdown rule, making it illegal for households to mix indoors, including in pubs, is introduced in the northeast of England, affecting two million people.

14 October 2020

England moves to a “three-tier” Covid system, with areas separated based on infection rates and subject to different lockdown restrictions. 

The Liverpool City Region, which had 669.5 cases per 100,000 people at the time of the move, is immediately put into Tier 3. Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster announces a four week lockdown.

20 October 2020

Talks between Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and the government to negotiate a Covid support package for the city break down. The government confirms that £60m will still be made available for the city. 

23 October 2020

Wales commences two week-long “firebreak” lockdown, with all residents required to stay at home as much as possible. 1,197 new cases are recorded on the day restrictions are tightened. 

31 October 2020

Johnson confirms that the furlough scheme, which was due to finish at the end of the month, will be extended through the month of November as a second national lockdown for England is announced. 

5 November 2020

England enters second national lockdown as cases continue to surge, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remaining under their own restrictions. 

10 November 2020

An initial analysis of a coronavirus vaccine developed by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech suggests their candidate is 90% effective in protecting against the virus

23 November 2020

Trials show that the Covid vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca is 70% effective on the same day that the government publishes its three-tier system for coronavirus restrictions.

29 November 2020

Nadhim Zahawi is appointed as Covid vaccine deployment minister.

2 December 2020

The three-tier system of Covid restrictions come into force as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, making the UK the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccination.

8 December 2020

Margaret Keenan, 90, becomes the first person to receive a Covid vaccine outside a clinical trial. She will later receive her second dose on 29 December.

19 December 2020

Johnson announces that a planned relaxation of Covid rules over the Christmas period will be scrapped for large parts of south-east England, and cut to just Christmas Day for the rest of England. New “tier four” measures are applied to London, Kent, Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, to try to control the spread of a new variant of the virus.

4 January 2021

Johnson announces new national lockdown measures for England due to the spread of a new variant that he describes as “both frustrating and alarming”. Brian Pinker, 82, becomes the first person to receive the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine outside a trial. 

21 January 2021

The government announces mandatory hotel quarantine for people travelling to the UK from a list of high-risk countries. 

1 February 2021

On the anniversary of the first confirmed Covid case, the government announces that all older people in eligible English care homes have been offered a coronavirus jab – and that just under 600,000 vaccinations were administered on the last day of January.

On the same day, surge testing is launched after 11 cases of the South African Covid-19 variant not linked to travel are found in England.

20 February 2021

The government announces a new vaccination target: to offer all UK adults a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of July, bringing forward the previous target of September.

22 February 2021

Johnson lays out England’s roadmap for lifting lockdown, a four-step plan that could see all restrictions removed by 21 June at the earliest.

29 March 2021

England reaches Step One in the government’s “roadmap” out of the second Covid-19 lockdown. “Stay at Home” advice ends and two households – or up to six people from different households – are allowed to meet outdoors. Weddings are also given the go-ahead, but can only have six people in attendance. 

12 April 2021

Covid rules are eased further in England, with changes to lockdown restrictions also taking place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, gyms and non-essential shops reopen, although the rule of six remains in place.

7 May 2021

The government publishes plans for its “traffic light system” for international travel. “Green, amber and red lists have been created, with all countries graded depending on factors including their vaccination rate”, The Guardian says. 

Public Health England officially declares a new strain of Covid first found in India a “variant of concern”. Johnson says officials are being “absolutely ruthless” in tracking down cases of the new variant, The Telegraph reports.

14 May 2021

Johnson confirms further coronavirus restrictions will be relaxed on 17 May, but warns that the increase in those infected with the Indian variant “could make it more difficult” for the final stage of unlocking to proceed on 21 June, reports The Guardian

The prime minister warns that the Indian variant appears to be “more transmissible” than the Kent variant, adding that some “hard choices” could lie ahead. 

17 May 2021

Lockdown rules are eased in England in the third stage of the “roadmap” out of lockdown. Pubs and restaurants are reopened for indoor dining and groups of up to 30 are once again able to meet outdoors.

Michael Gove tells the BBC that the government wants “friendly contact” between people to resume. But government scientific advisers warn that hugs should be selective, short and avoid face-to-face contact.

3 June 2021

Official figures reveal that half of UK adults – 22,442,383 people – have received both doses of their coronavirus jab. Johnson hails the “amazing achievement”, tweeting: “Now let’s finish the job.”

14 June 2021

The prime minister announces the easing of lockdown restrictions is to be delayed by a month – until 19 July – amid rising cases of the India strain, now referred to as the Delta variant based on new guidance from the World Health Organization.

26 June 2021

Matt Hancock resigns as health secretary citing a breach of Covid restrictions after leaked CCTV footage showed him kissing aide and former lobbyist Gina Coladangelo in his departmental office.

In his letter of resignation, Hancock says: “We owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down as I have done by breaching the guidance.

“We didn’t get every decision right but I know people understand how hard it is to deal with the unknown, making the difficult trade-offs between freedom, prosperity and health that we have faced.”

Ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid is named as his successor.

19 July 2021

England celebrates “Freedom Day” as the vast majority of Covid-19 restrictions are finally lifted and the country moves to step four of the government’s roadmap. 

The end to most restrictions means social distancing under most circumstances is brought to a close, as well as an end to limits on socialising with the rule of six scrapped.

24 November 2021

The first case of the Omicron variant is announced by South Africa. Three days later, the first cases are reported in England, in two people with links to travel to southern Africa.

30 November 2021

Details of the Partygate scandal begin to emerge, with the Daily Mirror claiming that Johnson and Downing Street staff broke rules to attend parties ahead of Christmas 2020.

8 December 2021

Johnson confirms that England will move to its Plan B measures amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Face coverings become compulsory in most public indoor venues, such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship. People are advised to work from home.

20 February 2022

Buckingham Palace announces that the Queen has tested positive for Covid. The monarch is experiencing “mild cold-like symptoms”, says the palace.

21 February 2022

Johnson announces he is lifting the last domestic Covid restrictions in England, including the requirement for people with Covid-19 to self-isolate. The PM tells the House of Commons that the country is “moving from government restrictions to personal responsibility”.

21 March 2022

The NHS in England begins its roll-out of a second booster vaccine to millions of people who are at higher risk from Covid-19. Over-75s, care home residents and those who are immunocompromised are contacted to book appointments. The UK’s Covid timeline: key dates in the pandemic

Fry Electronics Team

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