What are England's new Covid-19 rules being implemented under Plan B?

How will ‘Plan B’ affect me? From mask rules to working from home and Covid passports… Q&A on the new rules and when they come into force at Britain battles rising Omicron infections

Work-from-home guidance will return, Covid health certificates are to become mandatory in large venues and mask rules will be extended to combat the Omicron variant as Boris Johnson announced a move to his Plan B to tackle coronavirus.

The Prime Minister warned it is clear the new strain is ‘growing much faster’ than Delta, and cases of Omicron could be doubling every two or three days .

As he strengthened England’s rules, the PM said Christmas parties and nativities could go ahead, but urged ‘due caution’ for people to get booster jabs as he came under pressure over allegations of a rule-breaching festive bash in No 10 last year.

Mandatory mask wearing will be extended tomorrow to indoor public venues such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship but will not be required in pubs and restaurants, while guidance to work from home where possible returns on Monday.

The NHS Covid pass, which can be obtained by having two vaccines or a negative lateral flow test, will be introduced for entry into nightclubs and other large venues from December 15, as the PM set out his ‘proportionate and responsible’ measures.

But Mr Johnson was forced to insist the public understands the ‘vital importance’ of the measures as he faced questions over how they can accept his rules amid anger over allegations staff broke Covid rules in a party on December 18 last year.

Here, MailOnline looks at what the changes to the rules will mean for you:

VACCINE PASSPORTS

What are vaccine passports?

Mandatory vaccine passports will be introduced for all people aged 18 or over when visiting certain indoor or outdoor settings, which are set out below.

This means adults visiting the likes of nightclubs, large indoor events and large sports events will need this passport to gain access from December 15.

What if you are not fully vaccinated?

Proof of a negative lateral flow test will also be accepted after the Government said it had ‘considered the evidence since the emergence of Omicron’.  

Where will vaccine passports be required?

The policy will be focused on settings where crowds mix and come into close contact. The Government had previously said these would be expected to include:

  • all nightclubs and other venues open after 1am with alcohol, music and dancing;
  • indoor events with 500 or more attendees where those attendees are likely to stand and mix to a significant degree, or move around during the event, such as music venues or large receptions;
  • outdoor, crowded settings with 4,000 or more attendees where those attendees are likely to stand, or move around during the event, such as outdoor festivals;
  • any settings with 10,000 or more attendees, such as large sports and music stadia.

Why are vaccine passports being brought in?

The Government said vaccine passports could allow venues that have been closed for long periods since the pandemic began to remain open, and they are preferable to closing venues entirely or reimposing capacity caps or social distancing.

What settings would be exempt?

The Government previously said settings that would be exempt from the passport requirements would include communal worship, wedding ceremonies and funerals.

Exemptions are also expected to apply to free, unticketed outdoor events in public spaces, such as street parties, protests and mass participation sporting events.

What can you use as a vaccine passport?

The NHS Covid Pass is accessible via the NHS App and NHS.UK and letter via NHS.UK or by calling 119, and is already in use in some settings to check vaccination status.

The Government said hundreds of events and venues have already made voluntary use of the NHS Covid Pass, which currently displays an individual’s Covid status on the basis of vaccine, test or natural immunity status. 

Why are the new measures not coming in immediately?

The Government said introducing the certification from next Wednesday, December 15 will give businesses a week’s notice to help them implement it. 

WORKING FROM HOME 

What is the new guidance be on working from home? 

The Government says that from next Monday (December 13), ‘those who can will be advised to work from home’.

When did the working from home guidance last change?

On July 19, the Government lifted guidance on working from home lifted, but also said employers should ensure a ‘gradual’ return to the workplace over the summer.  

Why is the Government introducing this?

The Government said it wants to reduce the transmission risk inside and outside offices, including by reducing the number of people taking public transport.

It also wants cut down on the number of face to face meetings and social activities, and thereby reduce community and household transmission.

What risks has the Government identified relating to WFH?

The Government has pointed out that many people have inadequate working conditions at home, particularly younger workers, while those living alone or with poorer mental health could suffer due to reduced interactions with colleagues.  

There are also concerns that working from home guidance poses challenges such as hampering the exchange of ideas, stifling creativity and hindering collaboration.

The Government says working from home could make it harder for some businesses to carry out client engagement, and to train new and existing staff.  

FACE MASKS

What changes are happening to face mask rules?

The Government has now expanded the list of settings where face masks will be required. 

It said that from tomorrow, face coverings ‘will become compulsory in most public indoor venues, such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship’. 

Face covering regulations will be laid in Parliament later today when the full list of settings should become clearer.

Will face mask rules be brought in for pubs and restaurants?

No. The Government said there will be exemptions in venues where it is not practical to wear a face mask, such as when you are eating, drinking or exercising. 

For that reason, face masks will not be required in hospitality settings. 

What were the previous recent changes to face mask rules?

From November 30, face masks were made compulsory on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers in England – but not in pubs and restaurants.

That date marked the first time that face mask restrictions had been brought in for those settings under law since the lockdown officially ended on July 19.

Between those two dates, face masks were mandatory on the Transport for London network but only under the conditions of carriage and not under law.

This meant that until that point it was not illegal to travel on a Tube without a mask – but you could have be asked to leave if you were not wearing one.

Officials said masks were not extended to hospitality on November 30 for practical reasons, because you cannot eat or drink while wearing a mask.

SELF-ISOLATING AND TESTING

Will you have to self-isolate if you are a contact of a confirmed Omicron case?

No. The Government has now said: ‘We intend to introduce daily contact tests for contacts of confirmed positive cases instead of the ten-day self-isolation period.’

They said testing would be a ‘vital tool’ in controlling the spread of Omicron and there was  ‘now demonstrated community transmission’ of the variant.

Should you do more testing?

Yes. The Government has advised that everyone should test using a lateral flow device, ‘particularly before entering a high-risk setting involving people you wouldn’t normally come into contact with, or when visiting a vulnerable person’. 

Are the tests free? 

Yes. Lateral flow devices remain free of charge and can be collected from local pharmacies. You can generate a QR code for collection by clicking here. 

What were the previous recent changes to self-isolating rules?

From November 30, people identified as contacts of suspected Omicron cases were told they would have to isolate for ten days regardless of their vaccination status.

However, this is now changing and being replaced by a daily testing requirement.

What does self-isolation actually mean?

You must not go to work, school or public places – and work from home if you can. You must not go on public transport or use taxis, or go out to get food and medicine.

You must also not have visitors in your home, including friends and family – except for people providing essential care. And you should not go out to exercise.

The NHS advises people to exercise at home or in your garden, if you have one.

TRAVEL RULES

Are the travel rules also now changing?

No, but they have changed in recent days as detailed below. 

How have the travel rules changed recently?

From 4am on Tuesday, everyone over 12 travelling to the UK needs to have taken a pre-departure test – either lateral flow or PCR – to prove they don’t have Covid-19. This test is mandatory, including for those who are vaccinated.

What if you test positive overseas?

Britons are advised to contact the British embassy or consulate for advice. You will have to abide by the quarantine rules that apply in that country. 

This will involve a period of quarantine in a government-approved hotel or facility at your expense, which could run to several hundred pounds. 

You will need to fund any medical treatment required. You can return home after testing negative, but will probably need to pay for a new flight.

What happens after you arrive home?

Returning travellers must self-isolate at home until they take a day two test. This must be a PCR test, which is booked before you travel and bought privately from a government-approved provider. You must self-isolate until you get a negative result.

What about travel insurance?

Some policies, such as those offered by the Post Office, include coronavirus cover. This will include trip cancellation and curtailment cover; overseas medical and repatriation costs.

What if you want to cancel a foreign trip?

You don’t have a legal right to a refund. But most tour operators and airlines will give you a voucher to re-book at a later date.

What countries are on the red list now?

Ten southern African countries were added to the UK’s travel red list because of Omicron – South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia. Nigeria was added from 4am on Monday.

What are the travel rules for red list countries?

You should not travel to red list countries for holidays. People returning to the UK from a red list country must take a pre-departure test and undergo a hotel quarantine for ten days, with a test at day two or eight. 

Quarantine currently costs £2,285 for a single adult and £1,430 for a second adult.

What happens next?

These are temporary measures introduced to prevent further Omicron cases from entering the UK. They will be examined at the three-week review point on December 20.

HEALTH RATIONALE

Will Plan B slow the spread of Omicron?

Scientists advising the Government have said measures are needed to slow down the pace of Omicron.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, whose data was instrumental to the UK going into lockdown in March 2020, said yesterday that ‘case numbers of Omicron are doubling at least every three days, maybe even every two days at the moment, so it’s accelerating very fast’.

He said lockdowns are a possibility and cannot be ruled out, but working from home guidance could slow the spread.

‘There is a rationale, just epidemiologically, to try and slow this down, to buy us more time principally to get boosters into people’s arms, because we do think people who are boosted will have the best level of protection possible, but also to buy us more time to really better characterise the threat,’ he said.

He suggested ‘a kind of Plan B Plus with working from home might slow it down’ rather than stopping Omicron, reversing the doubling time to every five or six days.

What does the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies think?

Sage has said Plan B measures will have the greatest effect if brought in in one go.

Of the individual measures, the scientists advising Government believe working from home will have the biggest impact on slowing the spread of the virus.

The React study from Imperial College London showed working from home reduced the chance of catching Covid-19 during earlier stages of the pandemic.

Analyses of risk by occupation also shows a lower risk for those jobs with higher levels of working from home.

UK NATIONS 

Each of the four nations’ handling of the pandemic is managed by their own leaders – and here is how Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are different to England.

Scotland 

In Scotland, vaccine passports are already in force and have been since October, with people who are attending nightclubs, indoor events (unseated) with 500 or more people, outdoor events (unseated) with 4,000 or more people and any event with 10,000 or more to show they are double vaccinated before entering.

Since December 6, a negative PCR test taken within 24 hours of entry to a venue or a negative lateral flow test have also been accepted as part of the passes. Scotland’s Covid passes are called the NHS Scotland COVID Status app.

Wales 

In Wales, vaccine passports are in force in cinemas, theatres, concert halls as well as nightclubs and large events.

They are also needed for unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people in the audience, outdoor or indoor unseated venues with a capacity over 4,000 and any event with more than 10,000 people.

The passes can be downloaded by people who are double vaccinated or have tested negatively within 48 hours of entering the venue.

Similarly to England, Wales uses the NHS Covid Pass.

Northern Ireland 

Northern Ireland has followed the same rules as Wales, which have been in place since November 29. Enforcement will be applied from December 13. Residents who can download Covid passes include those who are double vaccinated or have tested negatively within 48 hours of entering the venue.

In Northern Ireland, the pass is called COVIDCert NI Mobile App.

How long will the new rules last in England?

The Government has said that the new rules will not be reviewed until January 5 – and the law imposing them would not run out until January 26. 

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