There will be a Backbench Business Committee debate on the provision of auditory verbal therapy taking place in Westminster Hall on Tuesday 12 December at 9:30am. The debate will be led by Sally-Ann Hart MP.
This is a fast-moving area, and the information presented here should be read as correct at the time of publication.
On 21 February 2022, the Government published its strategy, Living with Covid-19, setting out plans to remove the remaining legal Covid-19 restrictions in England.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaking in the House of Commons on the same day, said the lifting of restrictions had been enabled by high levels of vaccination and immunity, fewer deaths than expected for the time of year and knowledge that the Omicron variant caused less severe illness than previous variants.
The strategy sets out the Government’s objective in the next phase of its Covid-19 response to:
manage COVID-19 like other respiratory illnesses, while minimising mortality and retaining the ability to respond if a new variant emerges with more dangerous properties than the Omicron variant, or during periods of waning immunity, that could again threaten to place the NHS under unsustainable pressure.
This is to be achieved via four principles (emphasis added):
- Living with COVID-19: removing domestic restrictions while encouraging safer behaviours through public health advice, in common with longstanding ways of managing most other respiratory illnesses;
- Protecting people most vulnerable to COVID-19: vaccination guided by Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advice, and deploying targeted testing;
- Maintaining resilience: ongoing surveillance, contingency planning and the ability to reintroduce key capabilities such as mass vaccination and testing in an emergency; and
- Securing innovations and opportunities from the COVID-19 response, including investment in life sciences.
While the measures announced refer to arrangements in England, the Prime Minister said the UK Government would continue to work closely with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as they made decisions on their Covid-19 response.
Below is an overview of the changes the Government announced. The House of Commons Library has published a series of briefings which discuss different aspects of the Government’s Covid-19 response. These are regularly updated and publication dates should be noted.
Removing the legal requirement to self-isolate
Effective from 24 February 2022, the Government removed the legal requirement for people to self-isolate following a positive test.
The Government has recommended people who test positive should avoid contact with anyone in an at-risk group, including those who live in the same household.
From 24 February, the legal requirement for close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to self-isolate ended. The Government has said guidance will set out precautions that people are advised to take if they live in, or have stayed overnight in the same household as someone who has Covid-19.
As of 24 February, workers are not legally obliged to tell their employers when they are required to self-isolate. The Government advises employers and workers to follow guidance for those with Covid-19.
Further guidance is to be issued for staff in settings such as social care and healthcare.
Ending free universal testing
From the 21 February, the Government is removing guidance which asked staff and students in most education and childcare settings to undertake twice-weekly asymptomatic testing.
As of 24 February, the Government is no longer asking fully vaccinated close contacts and those under the age of 18 to test daily for seven days.
From 1 April, the Government will stop providing free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic for the public in England. Instead, the Government will support retailers and pharmacies to make tests available to buy.
Ahead of 1 April, the UK Health Security Agency will cap the number of tests distributed while the Government has urged people to order only what they need.
Limited symptomatic testing will remain for some at-risk groups and social care staff.
Support payments for workers
The Government announced the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme would end on 24 February.
The scheme had provided a £500 payment for people in England on low incomes if they had to self-isolate because they tested positive and could not work from home. It was also paid to workers who had been notified as a close contact and were not exempt from self-isolation (due to full vaccination, participation in a Covid vaccine trial, or medical exemption from vaccination).
From 24 March, employees will no longer be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) solely on the grounds of self-isolation. Employees who are unwell due to Covid-19 will be subject to the normal eligibility criteria for SSP which is usually paid from day four of the sickness period.
As of 24 February, routine contact tracing is no longer taking place. Contacts are no longer required to self-isolate or advised to take daily tests.
Guidance will be issued on the precautions contacts can take to reduce risk, while those testing positive will be encouraged to inform their close contacts so that they can follow the guidance.
Local health teams may still use contact tracing where they consider it necessary.
From 1 April, the Government’s guidance on the use of voluntary Covid-status certification in England will be removed.
In response to concerns about the Omicron variant, the Government introduced a legal requirement for people in England to demonstrate their Covid status in order to enter certain high capacity venues such as nightclubs under ‘Plan B’ measures in December 2021. This requirement ended on 27 January 2022, but the Government advised organisations to consider asking attendees to show their status “if [they] own or operate a venue where large crowds gather or people are likely to mix in close contact”.
From 1 April 2022, the Government will no longer recommend that certain venues use the NHS Covid Pass.
The pass will remain available for a limited time to enable continued use in other parts of the UK, and will continue to be available to show vaccination and recovery status for international travel.
Workplaces: New public health guidance
From 1 April, the Government will remove the health and safety requirement for every employer to explicitly consider Covid-19 in their risk assessments.
On the same date, the Government will replace the current ‘Working Safely’ guidance with new public health guidance. Employers will still need to “consider the needs of employees at greater risk from Covid-19”.
The Government said it would continue to be guided by advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on the use of vaccinations, and referred to its recent decision to offer vaccination to all 5-11 year olds in the Spring.
The Government said further boosters could be recommended for vulnerable groups.
Public health powers for local authorities
The Government has revoked The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020, which enabled local authorities to take measures to control and prevent the spread of Covid-19. The Government has said it will continue to manage local outbreak of Covid-19 in high-risk settings as with other infectious diseases.
From 1 April, the Government will set out what steps people with Covid-19 should take to minimise contact with other people, in sync with the changes to testing. The Government will also consolidate guidance to the public and businesses, in line with public health advice.
Covid-19 in the near future
Among possible outlooks, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) considered that a “reasonable best case” scenario would involve a “comparatively small resurgence in infections during autumn/winter 2022-23”, while a “reasonable worst case” might involve “a very large wave of infections with increased levels of severe disease”.
The Government acknowledged the possible emergence of new variants, which could produce more severe disease and demonstrate some resistance to antivirals and vaccines.
Considering the uncertainty, the Government said that it would keep monitoring Covid-19, with the Prime Minister indicating that the Office for National Statistics Covid-19 study would continue.
Once COVID-19 becomes endemic it should be possible to respond to the virus in a similar way to other existing respiratory illnesses, through sustainable public health measures. The transition to an endemic state will be highly dynamic and affected by the international situation. It will occur at different times globally due to differences in the spread of the disease and access to vaccines.
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