Coronavirus alert level raised to five: here’s what you need to know

Confused about alert level five and the new lockdown? We break down what you need to know and how the latest lockdown compares to the one in March 2020.

The content of this article was relevant at the time of publishing. Circumstances change continuously and caution should therefore be exercised when relying upon any content contained within this article.

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Just as we did in March 2020, we gathered around the TV last night to watch the prime minister announce that the UK coronavirus alert level has been raised to five and that we’re once again in lockdown. 

So what is alert level five? Here’s what you need to know about the change of alert levels and lockdown 2021.

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What does alert level five mean?

Covid-19 has been a confusing time and it often feels like we are speaking a completely alien language. Before this, we rarely if ever used words like ‘tier’, ‘lockdown’ or ‘furlough’.

And now the government is talking about ‘alert levels’. So what does this mean?

Alert level five is the highest level in the alert system. What it means is there is a real risk that healthcare services will be overwhelmed.

Basically, it means that the NHS cannot cope with the sheer volume of coronavirus cases.

What are the new rules?

With each change in the alert level comes a new set of restrictions.

Let’s break down the main things to know about alert level five and the new lockdown.


As was the case in the March lockdown, all schools (primary and secondary) have closed. They will only be open to vulnerable children and then children of key workers. However, early years settings (nurseries and preschools) can remain open.

But for many of us, the time has come to dust off those home learning books and join in with Joe Wicks’ PE sessions again.

Support bubbles

A key difference between the March lockdown and this one is that we now have support bubbles in place. This is not going to change under alert level five.

You can find out if you are eligible to form a support bubble on the website. The key thing to remember is that a support bubble is fixed between two households. So you cannot chop and change.

But the good news is that you are allowed to travel to see members of your support bubble.

Childcare bubbles

Along with support bubbles, childcare bubbles can remain under alert level five.

If you live in a household with anyone aged under 14, you can form a childcare bubble with one other household to provide informal childcare. This is unpaid and unregistered childcare.

Similar to support bubbles though, you can only have a childcare bubble with one other household. And it is not to be used for socialising.


Under alert level five, exercise is permitted once a day and not outside your local area. But this time you are allowed to meet up with one other person, outside, for one-to-one exercise.

The other good news is that playgrounds and parks are to remain open.

When can I leave home?

The main rule of alert level five is the same as that in March 2020: stay at home whenever possible.

But there are some exceptions. You can leave home to:

  • Work or do volunteer work if this can’t be done at home
  • Go shopping for yourself, a pet or someone in need
  • Access education if your child is permitted to attend school
  • Visit the doctor – we all need to keep looking after ourselves
  • Escape risk of harm at home
  • Visit someone giving birth, dying or in a care home or hospital, or accompany someone to an appointment
  • Visit places of worship.

Where can I find more information?

If you need more information about all things coronavirus, take a look at our coronavirus resources page. Here you will find details on the lockdown rules for Scotland, plus helpful personal finance articles such as Covid-19: how to save money working from home.

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