Coronavirus (COVID-19): Safer public places - managing public outdoor settings

Guidance for local authorities, owners and operators to support the safe use and management of outdoor public places while the risk of COVID-19 transmission remains.

This guidance was withdrawn on

This page has been withdrawn because it’s no longer current. Read more about living safely with coronavirus (COVID-19).

Applies to England

What has changed

The government has published its plan for living with COVID-19. This means:

From 24 February

  • You will no longer be legally required to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID-19. New guidance will advise people who test positive to stay at home and avoid contact with other people.

  • You will no longer be legally required to self-isolate if you are an unvaccinated close contact, and will no longer be advised to test for 7 days if you are a fully vaccinated close contact. New guidance will set out precautions for reducing risk to yourself and others.


As of 19 July, this guidance replaced the following pieces of government safer public places guidance:

  • COVID-19: safer public places - urban centres and green spaces
  • COVID-19: guidance for managing playgrounds and outdoor gyms
  • COVID-19: guidance for managing beaches, the countryside and coastal areas
  • COVID-19: guidance to support local authority compliance and enforcement activity, including COVID-19 Secure Marshals 

This guidance includes key principles and other information local authorities, owners and operators should continue to consider to support the safe use and management of outdoor public places while the risk of COVID-19 transmission remains.

This guidance includes considerations for the following spaces:

  • urban centres
  • green spaces
  • outdoor playgrounds
  • outdoor gyms
  • tourist hotspots, including beaches, the countryside and coastal areas

This guidance is only applicable in England and should be considered alongside local public health and safety requirements. For advice to local authorities, landowners, commercial landlords responsible for public places and management companies in other parts of the UK, please see guidance for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This guidance is non-statutory and does not affect any existing legal obligations, such as health and safety requirements.

Principles for individuals

Local authorities, owners and operators should be aware of and should consider advice provided to the public and individuals on how to protect themselves and others during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This includes meeting outdoors where possible as airborne transmission is a very significant way that COVID-19 circulates. See more information on the key principles for individuals to help minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Social distancing

Social distancing rules no longer apply in law. This means that local authorities, owners and operators do not need to implement social distancing (2m or 1m+) in outdoor public places, and the public do not need to keep apart from people they don’t live with. However, local authorities, owners and operators may wish to consider that some may make a personal choice and limit their close contact.

Local authorities, owners and operators may also wish to consider that businesses still have a legal duty to manage risks to those affected by their business and will therefore take reasonable steps to mitigate risks they identify and decide which interventions are appropriate to adopt.

See more information on how people can stay safe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Face coverings

There is no longer a legal requirement to wear a face covering. The government suggests that people continue to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where they may come into contact with other people they do not normally meet. For more information please see the guidance on face coverings.


COVID-19 spreads through small droplets, aerosols and direct contact. Surfaces and belongings can be contaminated with COVID-19 when people with the infection touch them or cough, talk or breathe over them.

Viruses on a surface could infect another person if they touch the surface and then touch their eyes, nose and mouth. Cleaning surfaces will reduce the amount of contamination and so reduce the risk of transmission.

The more a surface is cleaned, the more likely you are to remove viruses from an infected surface before you or another person touches it.

Local authorities, owners and operators responsible for outdoor public places should consider implementing or retaining cleaning protocols to limit coronavirus transmission in public places with particular focus on touch points (e.g. handrails and gates).


Washing or sanitising hands removes viruses and other germs, so people are less likely to become infected if they touch their face. Using soap and water is the most effective way to clean hands, especially if they are visibly dirty. Hand sanitiser can be used when soap and water is not available.

Local authorities, owners and operators responsible for public places, for example public toilets, should consider the use of signs and posters to make people aware of the following:

  • how to wash their hands well

  • that they should wash their hands frequently 

  • where possible, avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth. If they do need to touch their face (for example to put on or take off your face covering), wash or sanitise their hands before and after

  • that they should cough or sneeze into a tissue which is binned safely, or into their arms if a tissue is not available

When providing regular reminders and signage to maintain hygiene standards, local authorities, owners and operators may wish to consider:

  • addressing different needs of multiple user groups, for example, young people, older people and people with disabilities

  • using simple, clear and accessible images and messaging to explain guidelines, with consideration for groups whose first language may not be English or where alternative formats may be required


Toilets should be kept open and carefully managed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Steps should be taken by local authorities, owners and operators to make the use of toilets as safe as possible, such as:

  • using signs and posters (see Hygiene above)
  • making hand sanitiser available on entry to toilets where safe, practical and accessible
  • ensuring suitable handwashing facilities are available. This includes running water and liquid soap and suitable options for drying. Namely paper towels, continuous roller towels or hand dryers. Consideration should be given to the needs of people with disabilities
  • setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets, with increased frequency of cleaning in line with usage. Normal cleaning products should be used and attention paid to frequently touched surfaces. Disposable cloths or paper roll to clean all hard surfaces should be considered
  • keeping facilities well ventilated, for example by ensuring extractor fans work effectively and opening windows and vents where possible
  • special care should be taken for cleaning of portable toilets and larger toilet blocks
  • following and putting up a cleaning schedule that is kept up to date and visible
  • providing more waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection

Local authorities, owners and operators should also be aware of the COVID-19: ventilation of indoor spaces guidance.

Keeping staff safe

Local authorities, owners and operators should follow the guidance on working safely.

Role of marshals

Local authorities can determine whether to use marshals, stewards or their equivalents for on-going support. These staff can provide in-person advice and support to businesses and to the public. For example, this could be considered as part of local outbreak management planning in areas of higher risk, or where there is demand from businesses or the public locally for this type of intervention. 

Events and NHS COVID Pass

For events that could take place in or interact with outdoor public settings, local authorities, owners and operators should consult the events and attractions guidance which is included as part of the guidance on working safely. This guide is designed to help organisers reduce the risk from COVID-19 during their events. The guide also aims to assist local authorities in England in ensuring that events are able to go ahead as safely as possible.

Venues and events will no longer be required by law to check visitors’ NHS COVID Pass. The NHS COVID Pass can still be used on a voluntary basis. Event organisers, venues and businesses should consider where a queue may interact with the public realm and engage with the local authority, owner or operator of that public space in order to manage queuing arrangements safely and effectively. For more information please see the guidance on the NHS COVID Pass.

Pavement licences

The Business and Planning Act 2020 included a temporary streamlined and cheaper route for businesses such as cafes, restaurants and bars to secure a licence to place furniture on the highway. In March 2021 the government announced this would be extended for a further 12 months. This is a streamlined process to allow businesses to secure these licences and where they are deemed to have been granted, allow these licences to remain in place for a year but not beyond 30 September 2022. 

Where a pavement licence is granted, clear access routes on the highway will need to be maintained, taking into account the needs of all users, including disabled people. See guidance on pavement licenses: 


Local authorities, owners and operators of public places are advised to consider protective security advice in a number of settings and scenarios. This applies especially if an area is busy, or if there are temporary or newly implemented measures that impact outdoor public places, such as changes to entrances or exits and queue management systems.

Guidance for crowded places has been developed which covers key forms of protective security – physical, personnel, cyber and personal – and helps give guidance on how owners and operators can act to help make public places safer.


Guidance to support transport operators to assess and address the risks of coronavirus (COVID-19) and for passengers to plan ahead and travel safely can be found below.

Tourist areas

It is noted that tourist areas, such as beaches, the countryside and coastal areas, may experience high footfall during the coronavirus pandemic. This section includes information to support local authorities, owners and operators in managing these areas.

Dealing with anti-social behaviour

A high volume of visitors to outdoor public places for exercise and outdoor recreation may create an increase in incidents of anti-social behaviour such as littering, public defecation/urination, drug use and drunk and disorderly behaviour.

Further information can be found within the links below:

Car parking

See guidance for local authorities on enforcing parking restrictions, to maintain access for emergency services, residents’ vehicles and pedestrians.

Local authorities may wish to consider how temporary changes to permitted development rights can support car parking management in their areas. Government has allowed up to 56 days for the temporary use of land in 2021 through a time-limited permitted development right. This could be useful to alleviate pressure on existing on-street and off-street parking when visitor numbers are expected to be higher than normal.

Local authorities also have duties placed on them through legislation to provide safe movement for all traffic and permitted development rights do not override the need for relevant highways requirements. Further information on the temporary changes can be found below.

Beach safety and emergency access

The information below will help local authorities, owners and operators in these areas in ensuring safety and emergency access is maintained during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as communicating with visitors on how to keep safe.

Waste management

Bins should be emptied frequently. Local authorities, owners and may wish to consider providing additional refuse collection bins where high footfall is expected. Further information on disposing of personal or business waste can be found below.

Where to obtain further information

Published 19 July 2021
Last updated 22 February 2022 + show all updates
  1. Updated to reflect the publication of the government’s plan for living with COVID-19.

  2. Updated to reflect the lifting of Plan B measures.

  3. Call-out box added on the lifting of Plan B measures.

  4. Updated to reflect Plan B COVID-19 response measures.

  5. Information box added that England will move to Plan B in response to the risks of the Omicron variant.

  6. Updated to reflect new rules in response to Omicron variant.

  7. Added information on security considerations.

  8. Revised in line with the Prime Minister’s announcement of the COVID-19 response: Autumn and Winter plan.

  9. First published.