When will Plan B end, what are the current rules and will the government impose strict restrictions?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that Plan B measures will remain in place in England, despite recent concerns over the Omicron version of the coronavirus.

In his most recent update on 6 January, Johnson announced that he did not intend to impose stricter restrictions – although he warned that in some areas, the NHS would be “temporarily overwhelmed” by a surge in COVID cases.

The Omicron variant is more transmissible than the other types – making the infection more prone to infection – but appears to cause less severe disease in most people. So when can we expect Plan B to end?

Read more: What is a long covid – and what symptoms should be noticed?

When does Plan B expire?

England’s Plan B rules are currently set to expire on 26 January. However, another review is expected before that date to determine whether to extend them.

Despite Omicron’s surge in new COVID cases over the past few weeks, the government has so far resisted calls to move forward.

There was a major revolt among Tory lawmakers when the Plan B measures came in before the House of Commons vote in December.

Some 99 Conservative lawmakers broke the party’s whip and voted against the introduction of the COVID pass, although the measure – and other Plan B restrictions – were easily passed due to the support of Keir Starmer’s Labor Party.

What are the current Plan B restrictions?

Current Plan B restrictions in England include the mandatory wearing of masks in shops and public transport in an effort to stem the rise in COVID cases.

Covid passes have also been introduced. People must provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test before being granted access to various venues, including nightclubs, theaters and football fields.

Employers are also required to give people the option to work from home, where applicable.

Scotland and Wales are under strict restrictions. For example, in Wales, the ‘rule of six’ is applied to pubs, restaurants and cinemas to reduce the domestic mix.

The Welsh and Scottish governments have also closed nightclubs, with strict restrictions on attendance at 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 the introduction of its Plan B measures in England.

Travel rules have been relaxed. Following intense lobbying from travel industry bodies, pre-departure lateral flow testing has been completely phased out for people entering the UK.

Along with this, the rules have also been changed for people returning to Britain. Fully vaccinated people arriving in England and Wales are no longer required to self-isolate until a negative PCR result is obtained.

Instead, fully vaccinated arrivals will need to undergo a lateral flow test by the end of the second day after their return and, if it comes back positive, arrange for a PCR test to verify the result.

Currently, two doses of most vaccines — or a single dose of the single-shot Janssen jab — count as a complete vaccination. However, the rules are expected to change to include the booster in due course.

Meanwhile, from 11 January, asymptomatic people in England who test positive for COVID with a lateral flow test are not required to arrange for a follow-up PCR test to confirm. However, they still need to self-isolate for a reasonable period of time.

The rule is currently in place as a temporary measure and the government says it will remain in place as long as COVID cases remain high across the UK.

Will the government implement more covid restrictions?

Boris Johnson is under strong pressure from within his cabinet and the wider Tory parliamentary party to impose no further sanctions.

Opponents argue that further restrictions are unnecessary, given what we know so far about Omicron. It appears to cause shorter and less severe disease, at least in people who have some prior 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 the UK are believed to have ‘long covid’.

The big Tory revolt against Covid passes last month – which called Johnson’s authority into question – is likely to give the prime minister pause for consideration before introducing any further sanctions.

Johnson has said he hopes the current rules will prove enough to “ride out” the fresh wave of cases caused by Omicron.

The government has also intensified its booster program. More than 35 million people in the UK have so far received a booster jab or third COVID vaccine dose.

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