Politics

All the new Covid rule changes from today and tomorrow – what you can and can't do



Boris Johnson has announced a string of new Covid rules in England in a bid to tackle the Omicron variant – which is already thought to be spreading in the community.

All adults will get fast-tracked booster vaccines, face masks will be mandatory in shops and on public transport, and travel rules to the UK have been tightened up.

The rules take effect today and tomorrow, with all close contacts of Omicron cases also having to isolate for 10 days.

But the Prime Minister has been accused of not going far enough, with Labour and the governments of Scotland and Wales saying he must do more to safeguard against the variant.

He hasn’t even implemented his full ‘Plan B’ for winter yet.

So what exactly is changing and how will it affect you? Here are all your questions answered.

Where will I need to wear a face mask?

Face masks will be mandatory by law in England’s shops, public transport including taxis, hairdressers, banks and post offices from 4am on Tuesday.

They will also be compulsory during driving tests and at pharmacies.

Those who do not comply can be fined £200 for a first offence (£100 if you pay within two weeks), doubling on each repeat offence up to £6,400. Police will be expected to enforce the rules.

But masks will not be mandatory in pubs and restaurants, or cinemas and theatres, like they were before.

Government guidance advises people to wear masks in crowded indoor spaces, but this is not a legal requirement.






Face masks will be mandatory by law in England’s shops, public transport, hairdressers, banks and post offices

What are the new foreign travel rules?

From 4am on Tuesday, all arrivals in the UK from anywhere in the world must take a paid-for PCR test within 48 hours of their arrival – and isolate until the result comes back negative.

Previously, vaccinated travellers only had to take a lateral flow Day 2 test, and did not have to isolate. The new rules apply even to the double-jabbed.

Arrivals who land without having booked a Day 2 test in advance can be fined £1,000 on the spot.

Ten African countries were added to England’s red list over the weekend, forcing all arrivals into hotel quarantine costing £2,285 a head for 11 nights.

The 10 nations are Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Those who breach isolation rules can be fined between £500 and £10,000.







Passengers from KLM flight KL598 from Cape Town, South Africa at a COVID-19 testing station in Amsterdam Airport
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Image:

SWNS)

When will I have to self-isolate?

All close contacts of suspected Omicron cases will have to isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.

Those affected will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace. It’s not thought the Covid-19 app will single out those who have to isolate.

Elsewhere, people travelling to the UK must self-isolate until their Day 2 test is negative – as above.

People who test positive for Covid must still self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of vaccine status.

And unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated close contacts of a Covid case must still self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of whether it’s the Omicron variant.

Who will get a booster vaccine – and when?

All adults in the UK will now be offered a Covid booster vaccine – Pfizer or Moderna – in a much shorter time period than before.

Third doses will be fast-tracked, with people able to get them three months instead of six months after their second dose.

While immunity is said to be better with a six-month gap, the JCVI watchdog weighed that up against the risks of waiting too long with a new variant.

However, people will have to wait for their place in the queue. Boosters will be offered in descending order of age in five-year brackets. So 22-year-olds may have to wait a while.

Downing Street was unable to say how long the booster rollout will take.

No10 hopes to see a more detailed timetable published by NHS England “in the coming days”. People should not yet go online and try to book if they’re 18.

Meanwhile 12-15-year-olds will be offered a second dose.







People in Chesham getting booster vaccines before Christmas
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Image:

Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock)

Will schools shut early for Christmas?

Since Monday, the government is “strongly advising” school pupils above year 7, staff, and visitors to wear face coverings in communal areas of England’s schools.

Local public health teams can send groups of pupils home as a last-ditch measure to stop the spread.

But No10 insisted schools will not shut early for Christmas this year. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said the Government will keep schools open until they had “absolutely no choice” but to close the institutions down.

Can Christmas parties and gatherings go ahead?

Yes, there is no legal restriction on Christmas parties. People do not need by law to wear masks or show a vaccine passport in hospitality venues.

Health Minister Edward Argar said the government will let people in England “use their judgments” about whether to attend festive bashes this year.

But the minister also warned people “will reflect carefully on how they are going to react” to the new variant.

Voluntary government guidance advises people to wear masks in crowded indoor spaces, and take a lateral flow test before socialising with other people.







Edward Argar said the government will let people in England “use their judgments” about whether to attend Christmas parties
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Image:

Amer Ghazzal/REX/Shutterstock)

Why are these restrictions being introduced?

Scientists are alarmed by the Omicron variant because it has more than 30 mutations, which potentially means it could resist the vaccine.

Therefore, the government is introducing restrictions to buy time for scientists to work out whether it’s as bad as they fear.

At the moment, No10 admitted, “no one has any hard evidence of its impact on things like hospitalisations”.

Prof Jonathan Van-Tam said scientists must get live samples of the Omicron virus and test them, asking the public: “Please, everyone needs to give us time to assemble that data.”

He added: “I’m asking people not to panic – but I’m not asking them either to completely ignore the weather forecast.”

Are the rules strong enough to work?

Several key figures say they are not.

Labour’s Angela Rayner called for mask mandates to also apply to pubs and other hospitality settings, when people are moving around.

She added: “It’s so important that people wear masks when they’re indoors, in arenas where they’re meeting people and… mixing in large numbers.”

Scotland and Wales’ First Ministers wrote to Boris Johnson demanding all UK arrivals isolate for eight days, with PCR tests on day 2 and day 8. Currently they’ll only have to isolate until a Day 2 test comes back negative.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid insisted his approach was “proportionate”.

Will the rules be tightened further?

It is possible.

Boris Johnson has not yet enacted all of England’s ‘Plan B’ measures, leaving vaccine passports for nightclubs and stadiums in reserve.

The government has also not advised people in England to work from home where possible, despite advice of that kind in Scotland.

Asked if the Government might tighten up England’s rules even further in the next three weeks, minister Edward Argar said: “It’s not something I’m anticipating.”

But the PM’s spokesman did not rule out tighter travel rules. No10 said Boris Johnson was not “planning” to adopt Scotland and Wales’ plea for eight days’ isolation, but did not rule it out, saying the response would be kept under review.

When will they expire?

The measures will last three weeks and expire on December 20, with a review ahead of that.

That means they could be ended, continued or strengthened in time for Christmas.

MPs will also get a vote on the measures, likely on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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