Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that Plan B measures will remain in place in England despite recent concerns about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
In his latest January 6 update, Johnson announced that he would not introduce stricter restrictions – but warned that the NHS would be “temporarily overwhelmed” in some areas by the increase in Covid cases.
The Omicron variety is more transmissible than other varieties – it drives infections higher – but appears to cause less serious illness in most people. So when can we expect Plan B to end?
READ MORE: What is Covid long – and what symptoms should you watch out for?
When does plan B end?
England’s Plan B rules currently expire on January 26th. However, it is expected that there will be another review before that date to determine whether or not they will be renewed.
Although Omicron has caused a surge in new Covid cases in the past few weeks, the government has so far resisted calls to go further.
There was considerable rebellion among Tory MPs when the Plan B measures came ahead of a House of Commons vote in December.
About 99 Conservative MPs broke the party whip and voted against the introduction of Covid passports, despite the fact that the measure – and the other restrictions of Plan B – passed smoothly thanks to the support of Keir Starmer’s Labor Party.
What are the current limitations of Plan B?
The current Plan B restrictions in England include wearing masks in shops and on public transport to curb the growth of Covid cases.
Covid passports have also been introduced. People are required to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test before they can access various venues, including nightclubs, theaters, and soccer fields.
Employers are also required to allow employees to work from home where appropriate.
Scotland and Wales are subject to stricter restrictions. In Wales, for example, the “rule of six” applies in pubs, restaurants and cinemas in order to reduce the mix of households.
The Welsh and Scottish governments have also closed nightclubs while imposing strict restrictions on attending events such as football matches.
What rule changes have been made since Plan B was introduced?
The UK government has made a few more rule changes since launching its Plan B measures in England.
The travel rules have been relaxed. Pre-departure lateral flow testing for people entering the UK has been completely phased out following intense lobbying by the travel industry.
Also, the rules for people returning to the UK have changed. Fully vaccinated individuals arriving in England and Wales no longer need to self-isolate until they receive a negative PCR result.
Instead, fully vaccinated comers must perform a lateral flow test by the end of the second day after their return and, if the result is positive, arrange for a PCR test to check the result.
Currently, two doses of most vaccines – or one dose of the one-time Janssen vaccination – are considered fully vaccinated. However, the rules are expected to change in due course to include boosters.
In the meantime, asymptomatic people in England who tested positive for Covid with a lateral flow test will no longer have to have a follow-up PCR test for confirmation from January 11th. However, you are still required to self-isolate for the appropriate period.
This rule is currently intended as a temporary measure and the government says it will stay in place as long as Covid cases remain high across the UK.
Will the government introduce more Covid restrictions?
There is strong pressure on Boris Johnson from his cabinet and the wider Tory faction not to introduce any further restrictions.
Opponents argue that further restrictions are unnecessary in view of the previous knowledge about Omicron. It appears to cause a shorter and less severe illness, at least in people who have previously had some immunity to the coronavirus.
However, there are others who say that we still know relatively little about Omicron and its long-term effects. Around 1.3 million people in Great Britain are said to have “long-term Covid”.
Last month’s major Tory rebellion against Covid – which challenged Johnson’s authority – is likely to give the Prime Minister food for thought before further restrictions are put in place.
Johnson said he hoped the current rules will prove sufficient to “overcome” the new wave of cases caused by Omicron.
The government has also increased its booster program. More than 35 million people in the UK have so far received a booster or third dose of Covid vaccine.
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