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Will there be new Covid restrictions? What post-New Year rules could look like in England as PM urges caution

Boris Johnson has urged people to enjoy New Year celebrations in a “cautious and sensible way”

Further Covid-19 restrictions have been ruled out in England before the new year, but people are being urged to “remain cautious”.

The Prime Minister told people to enjoy celebrations in a “cautious and sensible way”, and encouraged people to get vaccinated after warning that 90% of patients in intensive care with coronavirus have not had their booster vaccine.

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(Composite: Mark Hall / JPIMedia)

Boris Johnson defended the decision not to impose new rules ahead of the new year like the devolved nations have done, and said booster jabs are making a “huge difference”.

Speaking during a visit to a vaccination clinic in Milton Keynes, he said: “I think that we’ve looked at the balance of the risks together, we generally concert our strategies together, we see the data showing that, yes, the cases are rising and, yes, hospitalisations are rising, but what is making a huge difference is the level of booster resistance or level of vaccine-induced resistance in the population.

“What we need to do now is really finish off that work. I’ve no doubt at all that by January 1, by the New Year, every adult in the country will have been offered the slot to get a booster. They’ll be given a slot to get one.”

But while the vaccine rollout is being relied on to boost immunity levels, ministers have warned that further restrictions may be needed in January, depending on how much pressure the NHS is facing as Omicron cases surge.

For now, England will continue to follow Plan B rules which include work from home guidance, mandatory face masks in most indoor venues, and the use of Covid passes to access certain venues and events.

If the government decides tougher rules are needed in January, these are some of the restrictions that could be introduced to help reduce transmission and bring coronavirus case numbers down.

Limits on indoor mixing

The government’s scientific advisers have reportedly modelled a return to ‘Step 2’ measures which were implemented in April this year.

Under Step 2 rules, indoor gatherings between different households would be banned, pubs and restaurants would be limited to outdoor service only, and the ‘rule of six’ would return for outdoor gatherings.

Overnight stays with people outside of your household or bubble would also be banned, as would holidays abroad.

However, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - where rules are already stricter - have not gone so far as to implement all of these restrictions, so it seems unlikely that such extreme measures will be put in place in England.

‘Rule of six’

The rule of six is another being considered by the government, according to The Telegraph.

The measure was previously introduced in spring and limited social gatherings to six people or two households outdoors.

However, it is not yet clear where the rule would apply if it is brought back in, meaning it could potentially apply to indoor or outdoor settings, or both.

Wales and Northern Ireland already have a ‘rule of six’ on indoor gatherings between multiple households, but this only applies to public venues such as pubs or restaurants.

Gatherings in private homes in Wales are limited to up to 30 people, while up to 50 can gather outside.

In Scotland, the rule of six has not been put in place, with people instead asked to limit social gatherings to three households or less at a time.

Closure of nightclubs

Nightclubs have already been ordered to close in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as part of efforts to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.

England has opted not to follow suit and is instead only requiring that all nightclubs, large venues and places that are open past 1am ask to see Covid passes from customers.

This means people will have to show proof of their vaccination status, or a recent negative Covid-19 test to gain entry.

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has warned revellers planning to travel to England, where rules are less strict, for New Year that this would be the “wrong course of action”.

John Swinney said while there is nothing to stop party-goers from heading south of the border, where nightclubs are still open, this would go against the “spirit” of the regulations put in place by the Scottish Government.

Return to pub table service

A return to table service in pubs and bars has already been ordered in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and such a rule could make a return in England.

While it is not as strict as returning to outdoor service only, it means customers would instead have to order food and drinks from staff or via apps while seated instead of queuing at the bar.

When could an announcement be made?

The latest government announcement on Covid-19 restrictions came from Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Monday (27 December) when he confirmed no new measures would be put in place before New Year.

There is currently no indication that the PM will make an announcement before the end of the year, so any guidance on rule changes will likely be confirmed in January.

Parliament is due back on 4 January, which suggests that any changes would likely come into effect on 5 January at the earliest.

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