From vaccine passports to travel and from face masks to isolating – here’s how the Covid rules will change as we enter autumn.
The Government has a Plan A – which will be used if the pandemic continues not to threaten the capacity of the NHS. But there will also be a Plan B, to be held in reserve in case the pandemic resurges.
While the general direction of travel is towards fewer restrictions, the Government has prepared a “Plan B” that can be activated if Covid data shows the virus is spreading rapidly through the population and threatening the NHS. Ministers would present the case for using Plan B to Parliament before as it was activated.
Sajid Javid has announced the plan will involve:
- Communicating clearly to the public the need for caution
- Compulsory face masks in indoor settings
- Vaccine passports for certain settings, including nightclubs, large outdoor events and indoor events of more than 500 people. Businesses will be given one week’s notice.
- Asking the public to work from home
If Plan B is not required, ministers will continue to relax restrictions and use vaccines to suppress Covid.
The Government will continue its vaccine programme, with a particular focus on young people and older people who will receive a booster jab.
Almost six million people under 16 are thought to be unvaccinated, and many will receive a dose as part of a new plan to immunise those aged 12 to 15.
The Government will also offer booster jabs to people in high priority groups who received their second dose of the vaccine at least six months previously.
It is likely that NHS staff will join care workers in being required to receive a vaccine to work.
Covid laws scaled back
Emergency Covid-19 laws were passed early in the pandemic to allow the Government to take drastic steps that curbed freedoms to stop the spread of a deadly virus then little understood.
But with every adult in the country now offered a Covid vaccine, the Government is dropping parts of those emergency laws which it believes are no longer needed.
That includes powers that temporarily close or restrict access to schools, detain infectious people, restrict events and gatherings or limit how large groups of people can gather.
However the Public Health Act, under which lockdowns were legally enforced, will remain on the statute book, leading to criticism from lockdown sceptic Tory MPs.
Since the pandemic broke out, Mr Johnson has imposed three different nationwide lockdowns to deal with Covid-19, sometimes only after being convinced by advisers.
But this autumn and winter the Prime Minister is determined not to adopt another lockdown if Covid cases surge, according to multiple Number 10 insiders.
Mr Johnson is believed to argue that with the vaccines now widely available it would be wrong to use such a blunt lever to control spread. Sources close to the Prime Minister have described him as being “adamant” and “dead set” against such a move, preferring to pull other less impactful levers if needed.
However Mr Johnson and his cabinet ministers are unlikely to categorically rule out ever adopting a lockdown again, accepting the uncertainty inherent when tackling Covid.
Traffic light system goes
For much of the pandemic the Government has had in place a “traffic light” system for travel overseas, with different rules for different categories.
There currently is a green, amber and red list, with the former being for countries posing the least Covid risk and the latter for those where significant risk remains.
This year a raft of new categories emerged, including “green watchlist” for countries that could soon turn amber and “amber plus” which brought tighter rules, adding to the complexity.
This system will be replaced with just two different groups: Countries where travel is permitted and a “red list” where hotel quarantine remains for those returning.
PCR tests scrapped
The new travel system is expected to see different rules for people who are double-jabbed and those who have not taken the Covid vaccine.
The fully vaccinated are likely to only need to take lateral flow tests, rather than the more reliable but more expensive PCR tests, when returning from abroad.
It is expected they will need to show proof of a negative lateral flow test before boarding a flight home and take another test on their second day back.
That would markedly decrease the costs of going abroad on holiday – a key criticism of the current Covid travel rules, which drive up the expense of overseas trips.
People who have not had two Covid jabs are likely to still have to take PCR tests. Exact details of the new system are still being worked up.
Red list countries will still need hotel quarantine.
Red list shrinks
The Telegraph understands that the “red list” of Covid high-risk countries, which will remain in existence after the reforms, will be significantly shortened.
Downing Street figures believe the definition for when countries are on the list is too strict and are working with scientists and government ministers on a less stringent definition.
The new focus will be on countries with many cases of variants most likely to break through UK vaccines, such as the Beta variant, first found in South Africa.
Currently there are 62 countries on the red list.
A senior Government source said that would be “significantly” reduced, with scientists to pick where to draw the new line.
There will be a new framework for international travel published around the formal review point for the travel list on October 1.
But masks and working from home could return
Downing Street is most keen to avoid measures that will severely impact the economy as it plans how the Government could respond to a Covid surge as the weather cools.
That means it is determined to avoid another lockdown and reticent on reimposing social distancing rules, which the hospitality industry says cripple pubs and restaurants.
However mask mandates are one lever the Government is willing to pull if needed, meaning tens of millions of people will be asked to wear them indoors again if Covid surges.
Government guidance urging people to work from home could also be reissued if Covid cases risk overwhelming the NHS.
That guidance was lifted in July.
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