In Depth

UK lockdown: who can go out to work?

Only ‘key workers’ are permitted to travel to do their jobs - and only when ‘absolutely necessary’

Boris Johnson has ordered people across the UK to stay at home as part of strict new measures to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

Under the raft of new lockdown restrictions, people may only go to work where “absolutely necessary”, with potential fines for those caught flouting the rules. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove has warned that the police “have the tools” to ensure anyone can be “penalised and punished if they put others’ lives at risk” by ignoring the social distancing measures.

But exactly who is allowed to leave their homes to go to work, and when? 

What has the government said?

Travelling to and from work​ is one of the few reasons that people are still permitted to go out, “but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home”, according to government guidelines.

Libraries, playgrounds, outdoor gyms and places of worship have been ordered to close, as have all non-essential shops - including clothing and electronics stores; hair, beauty and nail salons; and outdoor and indoor markets, excluding food markets. 

Hotels, hostels, campsites and caravan parks “must also close unless key workers need to stay there, or if others staying there cannot get back home”, says the BBC.

People who do still need to go out to work are being told to minimise the amount of time they spend outside their homes, and to maintain a distance of at least two metres from people other than those with whom they live. 

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Who is classified as a ‘key worker’?

There is still some confusion about who can leave their home to go to work, but key workers are among those who definitely can. They can also continue to send their children to school.

The government list of key workers comprises:

Health and social workers

This category of key workers includes but is not limited to doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers and other front-line health and social care staff including volunteers.

Support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s broader health and social care sector are on the list.

Also included are those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributers of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment, such as masks.

Education and childcare

Key workers in this sector includes childcare, support and teaching staff, social workers and specialist education professionals.

Key public services

These key workers include those essential to the running of the justice system, as well as religious staff, charity workers and those delivering key front-line services. Those responsible for the management of the deceased, and journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting, are included as well.

Local and national government

Administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the coronavirus response will continue to be allowed to leave their homes to work if necessary, as will those delivering essential public services, such as the payment of benefits, including in government agencies and so-called arm’s-length bodies (ALBs). 

Food and necessary goods

Key workers in this area include those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines).

Public safety and national security

Police and support staff, National Crime Agency employees and those maintaining border security are all categorised as key workers, as are prison and probation staff and those who perform other national security roles, including overseas.

The list also includes Ministry of Defence civilians, contractors and Armed Forces personnel - those critical to the delivery of key defence and national security outputs and essential to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic - and fire and rescue service employees (including support staff).


This category of key workers includes those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the coronavirus response, including staff working on transport systems through which supply chains pass.

Utilities, communication and financial services

Also on the list of key workers are people needed for essential financial services provision, such as those working in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure.

In additional, this category includes those needed for the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage), the information technology and data infrastructure sector, and for primary industry supplies to continue during the coronavirus response.

Key staff working in the civil nuclear and chemicals sectors, and in telecommunications - including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, IT and data infrastructure, 999 and 111 critical services - are also on the government list, as are those in postal services and delivery, payments providers and waste disposal sectors.


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