Final lockdown announcement set hourly traffic record for GOV.UK

More than three million people visited government’s website as Boris Johnson informed the country of new restrictions 

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

The announcement that the UK was heading into its third national lockdown prompted the biggest ever surge in traffic for the government’s GOV.UK website. 

At 8pm on Monday 4 January 2021, prime minister Boris Johnson gave a national televised address (pictured above) in which he announced that, the following day, the country would re-enter lockdown mode. This brought with it the closure of all non-essential shops, leisure facilities, and hospitality venues, as well as a widespread switch to remote learning and a ban on social contact with anyone outside your household or support bubble. 

Between 8pm and 9pm, GOV.UK recorded its highest-ever volume of hourly traffic, clocking up 3.2 million visits. Over the course of the whole day, “the equivalent of 12% of the UK population visited” the government website, according to a blog published this week by the Government Digital Service.

Written by GOV.UK’s lead delivery manager Anna Sherington, the GDS post looked back on the agency’s work in the two and half years since 24 January 2020 – the date on which the government published its first online guidance on coronavirus.

By May 2022, when GDS stood down its team dedicated to pandemic-related GOV.UK updates, government’s online coronavirus content had generated a cumulative total of 1.45 billion unique page views. 

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This included 49 million uses of the service for reporting a lateral flow test result, and 32 million page views for the postcode checker that allowed people to check what restrictions were currently in force in their local area.

“Although we were building and iterating products, services and content at extreme pace throughout the pandemic, the team remained motivated and proud to be working on something so impactful,” Sherrington wrote. “We understood that, with weighty responsibility on the team’s shoulders, we had to prioritise our wellbeing and resilience so we could sustain our work over a long and unpredictable period. As we were approaching the end of the pandemic period, we knew that we had to start winding down the team. We spoke to each team member and asked them about what they were interested in working on next. Working with other teams on transition dates, we moved our team members into their new teams whilst ensuring that we still had enough people to carry on with the remaining work.”

She added: “There is no longer a dedicated coronavirus team in GOV.UK, but what remains is the connection we have, having worked on something so significant and the hope that we have helped the country during this challenging time.”

The measures imposed on 4 January marked the final time the nation was placed into lockdown. After two months of the harshest restrictions, the limits on schools were the first to be lifted on 8 March. A ‘stay at home’ order remained in place until the end of that, with businesses beginning to reopen from 12 April. Further measures were removed incrementally until 19 July, at which point almost all remaining restrictions were lifted.


Sam Trendall

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