When mutant coronavirus variant Omicron began spreading at the end of last year, the UK brought in Plan B to curb rising cases.
Now, the Prime Minister has announced that the Plan B rules will be removed. At PMQs on January 19, Boris Johnson confirmed that the restrictions will end in response to steadily falling infection rates.
However, this doesn’t mean that Covid guidelines will end completely – the government will likely revert to Plan A. Here’s what the end of Plan B means for you and what we can expect next in the fight against Covid-19.
What does the end of Plan B restrictions in England mean?
The end of Plan B restrictions will see the face mask mandate in public areas being removed.
This means people will no longer be fined for not wearing a face mask in places such as public transport. School children will also no longer be expected to wear a face covering at school.
Boris Johnson also confirmed that work from home guidance will be scrapped – effective immediately – with employees able to return to offices and workplaces as normal from today.
Covid passes will no longer be compulsory for entry into venues such as stadiums and nightclubs, but venues can continue using this measure if they wish.
There is no information on restrictions on care homes yet, but they will likely be relaxed as well.
For now, there are no changes to self-isolation rules. The last change to these rules came when the self-isolation period was slashed from seven to five days upon getting two consecutive daily negative lateral flow test results.
However, the Prime Minister has said that self-isolation could be removed altogether in the future.
"There will soon come a time when we can remove the legal requirement to self-isolate altogether, just as we don’t place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu," he said.
He added that as Covid becomes endemic, legal requirements will be replaced with advice and guidance instead.
When will Plan B restrictions end?
If you're eager to know when you can ditch the masks and when the other Plan B restrictions end, here's a timeline of the key dates:
19 January – immediate removal of working from home guidance
20 January – removal of mandatory face masks in secondary schools
27 January – the removal of mandatory face masks in remaining venues, and the scrapping of a mandatory Covid pass for large events and nightlife venues
What is Plan A?
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Scrapping Plan B doesn't mean that we have no more Covid restrictions in the UK. The government will be moving back towards Plan A, which had been in place in England prior to the Omicron wave.
Plan A will focus on booster and vaccine rollout to defend against the virus, alongside advice and guidance as opposed to mandatory rules.
Those who remain unvaccinated – as well as children aged between 12 and 15 years-old – will continue to be offered the vaccine ,and everyone will also be encouraged to get a flu jab.
Free PCR tests will continue and lateral flow tests will still be made freely available for the time being. Advice to meet in places with proper ventilation and use face coverings in crowded areas will remain in place.
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