Will there be another lockdown in winter 2021? Latest UK Covid rules ahead of Christmas amid Omicron fears

The government is hoping to avoid another winter lockdown by relying on the Covid booster vaccine programme

People can expect Christmas celebrations to be “normal” this year, the Health Secretary has said.

Sajid Javid has told families to plan for the festive sesaon “as normal” despite new rules to combat the Omicron Covid variant.

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While mandatory face masks have been reintroduced in all shops and on public transport in England, Mr Javid said it was “nowhere near” time to reintroduce social distancing rules and work-from-home guidance just yet.

Passengers arriving in the UK from abroad must now take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

Additionally, all contacts with a suspected case of Omicron must isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status, amid concerns that existing jabs may be less effective against the new variant, which is believed to spread rapidly.

The government said the newly introduced measures, which came into effect on 30 November, are temporary and precautionary after more than 10 cases of the new Covid-19 strain were detected in the UK.

What is the Covid winter plan?

Under ‘plan A’, no additional restrictions will be reintroduced over the winter, meaning there should be no limit on the number of people you can meet, and shops, pubs and restaurants will not be forced to close.

The government is hoping to avoid the need to bring in stricter rules by relying on the booster vaccine programme, which is now being offered to all adults aged 18 and over.

Young people aged 12 to 15 are also being offered a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine no sooner than 12 weeks after their first dose.

A winter ‘plan B’ could be implemented if efforts to control the spread of coronavirus are not effective.

While the return of mandatory face masks in some settings has already been annouced, if the plan is put in place this would see the introduction of Covid passports to access certain venues and advice to work from home.

Could there be another lockdown this winter?

The government has outlined a ‘plan A’ and ‘plan B’ for tackling coronavirus this winter, but there is still potential that even tougher measures could be needed if cases surge.

While ministers have said they expect the plan B contingency measures to be “sufficient” to avoid a significant resurgence in Covid-19 infections this winter, there has been no guarantee that another lockdown is completely off the table.

A possible ‘Plan C’ could see nationwide restrictions reimposed, although the government has insisted another lockdown would be a “last resort”.

Another national lockdown also seems unlikely because fresh legislation would be required to introduce it.

Under a six-monthly review of the Coronavirus Act, the government has promised to scrap a number of its powers, including the ability to shut down entire sectors of the economy, temporarily shut schools, and ban social gatherings.

Some of the only legal powers remaining to ministers include the ability to require people to self-isolate, the power to allow local authorities to respond to an imminent threat to public health and the power to provide financial support to those forced to quarantine.

Mr Javid has not yet ruled out any future lockdown, but insisted putting the “booster programme on steroids” is the main form of defence against Covid.

He told MPs the new Omicron variant “may have given the virus extra legs” in the race between the disease and vaccines, but he is “confident” that the responses he has just set out are “balanced and responsible steps that are proportionate to the threat that we face”.

Mr Javid told the Commons: “If it emerges that this variant is no more dangerous than the Delta variant, then we won’t keep measures in place for a day longer than necessary.

“We always knew there would be bumps in the road, but this is not a time to waver, it’s a time to be vigilant and to think about what each and every one one of us can do to slow the spread of this new variant.”

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