New legislation brought in to tackle the Covid Omicron variant in England will be in place until March, sparking fears the rules will not be scrapped for months.
The rules came into effect on Tuesday (30 November) and include mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport, and PCR tests for fully vaccinated arrivals in the UK.
Rules also require people to self-isolate for 10 days if they come into contact with a case of the Omicron variant, regardless of vaccination status.
Those who fail to comply face an initial fine of up to £1,000, rising to as high as £10,000 for repeat offences, even if they are fully vaccinated.
When will the rules be reviewed?
The temporary new rules are due to be reviewed by 20 December, three weeks after being introduced, but the law underpinning isolation rules will not expire until 24 March.
While this does not necessarily mean people will be forced to follow isolation rules until then, Tory MPs have hit out over the legislation warning it could lead to another ‘pingdemic’.
Previous coronavirus legislation has been kept in place much longer than originally planned, with some MPs concerned this could happen again.
Huw Merriman, Tory MP for Bexhill and Battle, told the Commons: “If the aim is for us to be covered for no longer than is necessary, why do they have no end date and default to 24 March?
“The impact of these regulations is even greater than our having to wear a face covering for longer periods because, as has been mentioned, we could well be back to “pingdemic” territory.”
If the government considers the threat of the Omicron variant to be lessened after three weeks, it is possible that the recently introduced measures could be eased before Christmas.
What has Boris Johnson said?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people not to cancel their Christmas parties or school nativity plays despite growing concerns over the new variant, which has now reached more than 20 cases in the UK.
Mr Johnson resisted calls from a senior health official to limit socialising in the run-up to Christmas, insisting that “balanced and proportionate measures” had already been put in place in response to the outbreak.
However, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has warned that Omicron case numbers are likely to increase in the coming weeks and “we have to be realistic” that it is being spread further within the community.
It is feared that the new variant, first detected in South Africa, could be more transmissible than other strains and can spread between people who are fully vaccinated.
The government is now extending the booster vaccination rollout to all UK adults to help boost immunity this winter, following new guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The jabs will be offered in order of descending age groups, with priority to be given to older adults and those in an at-risk group. Boosters will also be given to people aged 16 years old and over with severely weakened immune systems.
People will be able to book their third dose three months after their second dose, after the JCVI advised cutting the waiting time down from the previous six month gap.
Mr Johnson has promised that everyone eligible will be offered a booster dose by the end of January.
At least 400 military personnel will be deployed to help with the effort, with the PM adding that vaccination centres will be “popping up like Christmas trees”.
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