Public Health England appeals to parents to follow lockdown rules in February half term 2021
"We are still in a national lockdown and the rule to stay at home remains in place, including over the February half term break. There is no doubt that it is tough, but as lots of people may have time off and children have a break from school work, it’s really important that we all stay local, do not travel around the country and don’t mix households."
That's the strong message from health chiefs in a public appeal to parents ahead of next week's school holiday.
The Public Health England blog post, published online, acknowledges that families with children to occupy are enduring a 'very tough winter' but pleads with everyone to continue following the rules during what is described as 'a very important moment of the pandemic'.
The appeal entitled 'staying safe over half term' discusses the vaccine roll out and falling infection rates and acknowledges how much families are missing the support and company of wider relatives and friends - but the overwhelming message is that parents with some much welcomed down time must resist the temptation to break the rules during the upcoming holiday.
It reads: "There are reasons to be hopeful and it is good to see the sacrifices of lockdown making a difference, but to ensure infection rates and hospital admissions continue going in the right direction, and to keep ourselves and those around us safe, it remains as important as ever to continue following the rules."
So with a week-long break from home schooling on the horizon, what do the current lockdown restrictions allow families in Kent to do? We take a look...
With a 'stay at home' order in place lockdown rules state you must not leave or be outside of your home except for very specific reasons. These include getting shopping for you or a vulnerable person, going to work or seeking medical treatment.
You are also allowed to leave home to exercise once a day, which means taking your children on a walk, bike ride or trip on their scooters during the half term break is allowed as it has been throughout lockdown, providing that you remain within your local area.
Despite February half term bringing a little more spare time for some, and of course a break from home school for children, government bodies are quick to point out that families should avoid any temptation to travel outside of their local area.
Some parks, gardens and historical attractions have remained open during lockdown but these are for the benefit of people who live nearby and people are being urged to only book a visit if they are local.
According to the government's lockdown rules, staying in your local area is defined as staying 'in the village, town or part of the city where you live'.
Families should only go out for exercise with their household or support bubble. Alternatively one person can meet one other person for exercise providing social distancing is maintained.
For parents with babies, toddlers or pre-school children, youngsters under five do not count towards the limit of two, which does enable two adults from two different households to meet outside with very small children - but once again providing social distancing is always maintained.
If you are providing childcare for someone as part of a childcare bubble you can also leave the house to take those youngsters for fresh air and exercise but this is only when you are providing care and doesn't extend to social situations. For example if you're a grandparent looking after grandchildren whilst your adult children are at work you are asked to not then meet those children with their parents outside of those hours or days. Families within childcare bubbles can only mix households when children need to be looked after.
Public outdoor spaces and places
Many public outdoor places remain open in lockdown including parks, beaches, forests and accessible countryside including country parks. Many public and botanical gardens (both free and fee-paying) also remain open for visitors as do some heritage site grounds. But once again people are asked to remain within their local area when taking their children out.
In Kent, Leeds Castle as amongst the historical attractions remaining open during this lockdown but it is reminding families it is open for only local visitors whilst the National Trust has issued the following statement:
"Following government guidelines, National Trust gardens, parks and countryside in England remain open for local people to exercise. The safety of staff, volunteers and visitors from nearby communities remains our priority. Shops are closed under the restrictions, but some places will offer a basic takeaway service and toilets will remain open.
"Please visit our website for opening times and information about facilities and to book your visit. We encourage all visitors to book before their visit, as this enables us to ensure social distancing is possible."
Families can make use of public playgrounds which were closed in the first lockdown last March.
The government rules state these have been left open this time around to help families who have little access to private outdoor space and whilst families are permitted to take their children to a playground for the benefit of exercise parents are asked to not socialise with others whilst there and to also adhere to any rules the play park itself has in place.
Support and childcare bubbles
Families have to meet certain eligibility rules to form a support or childcare bubble.
A support bubble is a support network which links two households. You can form a support bubble with another household of any size only if you meet the eligibility rules, which include living by yourself, being a single parent living with children under the age of 18 or families with a baby under the age of one.
You can leave your home to visit your support bubble or stay overnight and you do not need to social distance - but where possible families are encouraged to pair with a household who lives locally.
You cannot form a support bubble with a household that is already part of another support bubble as these arrangements must be exclusive to help limit the spread of coronavirus.
If you live in a household with anyone aged under 14, you can form a childcare bubble, which parents and in particular keyworkers may require over half term if they are having to continue working around the school break and school closures.
A childcare bubble allows friends or family from one other household to provide informal childcare to another but you must not meet socially with a childcare bubble (for example for exercise) and if you are part of both a childcare bubble and support bubble you must avoid seeing these at the same time.
To find out if you qualify to form a bubble and for more details on the rules set out please click here.
For the full blog post from Public Health England please click here.