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LIFESTYLE FEATURES

From scotch eggs to snitching: The most bonkers rules Britain had during lockdown

24 months after the first Covid lockdown was imposed in the UK, Kate Ng takes a look back at the rules that didn’t make any sense

Wednesday 23 March 2022 06:00
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It’s been exactly two years since the UK was first placed under lockdown, the first of many subsequent lockdowns that would mark the next two years of living in a pandemic.

Prime minister Boris Johnson announced a legally-enforced Stay At Home order which required everyone not to leave their homes unless it was to get basic necessities, exercise once a day, medical needs and traveling to and from work if you couldn’t work from home.

With just days to prepare before the lockdown came into full effect on 23 March 2020, Britons were forced to make last-minute preparations to transform their homes into 24-hour offices, daycares, schools and indoor leisure centres.

It was meant to last for three weeks. But as the year wore on, it became more evident that Covid-19 was not going anywhere - meanwhile, with each new lockdown, the rules became more bizarre and confusing.

From police patrolling parks to stop people from sitting down, to the great debate over whether or not a scotch egg counted as a substantial meal, there were many moments over lockdown when Britons were left scratching their heads.

As the UK marks the second anniversary since those troubling times, we take a look at some of the rules that made everyone go: “Wait, what?”

No sitting in the park

From 23 March until the end of April 2020, people were permitted to use parks for their once-a-day exercise allowance. However, you couldn’t sit or sunbathe in the park or any outdoor spaces.

The government said the rules were put in place to ensure social distancing could be enforced. At the time, the first wave of Covid-19 led to nearly 1,500 deaths in one day in April, and most members of the public were happy to stick to the rules to avoid spreading the virus.

But reports began emerging of “overzealous” police who would patrol parks and green spaces to move people on if they sat down for even a moment after exercising. By the end of March, one police force said it had doled out fines to people who had gone for a drive “due to boredom”.

The rule was baffling for many, particularly when we consider how vital outdoor public spaces became for many people who did not have private gardens or balconies in their own homes.

The Great Scotch Egg Debate

In December 2020, pubs were told they could only serve alcohol with a “substantial meal”, which sparked a huge nationwide debate about scotch eggs.

The confusion began when ministers couldn’t seem to define what a “substantial meal” would be. George Eustice, the secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told LBC at the time that a scotch egg counted as such a meal - but former chancellor Michael Gove was of the opinion that it was a “starter”.

But just hours later, Gove U-turned on his position and said that actually, scotch eggs are a substantial meal. However, a month later, a pub landlord who served customers scotch eggs after hearing they were sufficient was told he had breached Covid rules and fined £1,390.

So the question remains: Is a scotch egg a substantial meal? Maybe we shouldn’t leave it up to the ministers to decide.

Snitch on your neighbours

In September 2020, the “rule of six” was introduced to curb another wave of Covid-19 infections that were starting to rise at the time. People were only allowed to have social gatherings with a maximum of six people, and faced fines of up to £3,200 if they didn’t comply.

But it’s not the rule of six that was upsetting. It was that the British public were being encouraged to snitch on each other if they spotted someone else flouting the new law.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse said “concerned” neighbours should ring the non-emergency police phone number to report any violations.

In an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, Malthouse was asked if that meant people should report a gathering of seven or more people in their neighbour’s garden. He said: “It is open to neighbours to do exactly that through the non-emergency number and if they are concerned and they do see that kind of thing, then absolutely they should think about it.”

Face masks compulsory, except when singing

Throughout 2020, congregations visiting places of worship had to get used to a set of rules once they were allowed to attend indoor services again. These included mandatory social distancing, wearing face masks and not singing or chanting.

But in December 2021, new rules implemented under the government’s Plan B Covid plan left worshippers confused. During this time, those attending church or any other place of worship were required to wear a face mask, but they were allowed to take it off to sing.

It was pointed out that Covid-19 could be spread through the air via aerosols and droplets that are expelled when a person breathes and talks - and singing created more of these, which meant the risk of transmission could increase if congregations were singing without face masks on.

The issue was so confusing that comedian Paul Sinha, who also appears regularly on ITV game show The Chase, remarked that the government appeared to be “making it up as they go along”.

He told BBC’s Sunday Morning Live at the time: “There just doesn’t seem to be any scientific logic behind it. None of it makes sense. You have to have scientific logic running through it to encourage people to comply, and this thing about singing, it’s not a hundred per cent necessary even on a Sunday, to sing.”

No dancing at weddings

Trying to plan a wedding in 2020 was impossible for the brave few who attempted it. Strict rules around guest numbers and rolling lockdowns meant many people were forced to postpone their ceremonies.

So when many of the rules around weddings were eased in June 2021, engaged couples everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. The limit on guest numbers was lifted (with the final headcount depending on how many people the chosen venue could safely accommodate) and outdoor weddings were allowed to be more relaxed than indoor ones.

However, the dance floor remained closed except for the bride and groom to have their first dance together. Again, the goal was to ensure social distancing could be adhered to - but a wedding without dancing just felt wrong. Guests would all be in the same space for several hours, eating and drinking without face masks on anyway, so it made little sense to many that they couldn’t get their boogie on at the time.

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