Social distancing rules could ‘remain until autumn’ - here’s when that is in 2021

Social distancing rules may remain in place until at least the autumn, it has been reported.

The government’s lockdown exit plan relies on the assumption that people will have to adhere to the one metre rule and continue to wear face masks for months, according to The Times.

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Boris Johnson is expected to lay out his “roadmap” for easing restrictions in the week beginning 22 February.

So, when exactly is autumn - and could we be following social distancing guidelines until then?

Here is everything you need to know.

When is autumn 2021?

The first day of autumn can fall on two different calendar dates, depending on whether you refer to the astronomical or meteorological season.

The astronomical autumn is the date that is most commonly referred to, according to the Met Office.

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It is defined by the Earth’s axis and orbit around the Sun - the autumnal equinox - so the start of the season doesn’t always fall on the same date by this measure.

Equinoxes, meaning “equal night” in Latin, denote the only two points in the year when the equator is the closest part of Earth to the sun.

By that definition, the official first day of autumn this year is on Wednesday 22 September 2021.

Autumn then turns to winter on the date of the winter solstice, so the last day of autumn this year is on Tuesday 21 December 2021.

The meteorological definition is much more simple.

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The year is split into four seasons made up of three full months each, to coincide with the Gregorian calendar.

This makes it easier for meteorological observing and forecasting to compare seasonal and monthly statistics, according to the Met Office.

Under the meteorological season, autumn begins on 1 September every year and lasts until 30 November.

Winter then starts in December and lasts until February.

Could social distancing be in place until autumn?

Ministers are considering keeping social distancing restrictions and mask-wearing rules in place until at least the autumn, The Times reports.

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Scientists have predicted that some measures may even have to stay in place until the end of the year.

A Whitehall source told the newspaper: "The thinking is that social distancing will need to be in place for a long time to come.

"It has repercussions for the scale of any reopening. Restaurants, pubs and offices will all need to be Covid-secure."

Keeping restrictions in place for months would act to prevent a surge in infections and deaths and the need for another national lockdown, according to the report.

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Ministers are said to believe that continuing some coronavirus rules will allow for other measures to be eased and a return to something like normal.

Sage expert Professor Neil Ferguson had previously said easing restrictions would be a “gradual process” until the autumn.

Speaking about whether there would be coronavirus measures in place for months to come, he referred to the emergence of more transmissible new variants which would make the relaxation of rules more difficult.

What is the government’s lockdown exit plan?

Sources told The Times that a range of options are being considered ahead of the prime minister’s lockdown exit strategy announcement, but it is not yet clear what these are.

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Boris Johnson had previously said that schools would be the first to open, potentially on 8 March.

Scientists have warned that there must be no more than 10,000 people infected in Britain on any given day before lockdown can be eased, according to MailOnline.

They are also worried about the new variants, including the Kent and Bristol strains, spreading further which could affect how quickly rules are relaxed.

Lockdown restrictions were introduced for an initial period of seven weeks in England.

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Boris Johnson promised that the measures would be reviewed during the week commencing 15 February.

It is hoped that the government will have a clearer idea of the effectiveness of lockdown restrictions by this date.

It is also hoped that by this stage the 15 million most vulnerable people in the country will have been offered a first dose of the vaccine.

Following the review, a lockdown exit roadmap is to be published in the week commencing 22 February.

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Speaking on 3 February the prime minister said: “On 22 February, we will be setting out in as much detail as we can about where we see the dates, what the timetable could be, the earliest dates by which we want to do what - you remember what we did last year - setting out a route map, we’ll do that again.”