Will we go back into lockdown this year? What the experts say so far

Credit: Getty

Will we go back into lockdown again this year? It’s been months since the government lifted all measures in England, but with cases rising and concerns over a new variant, there are new fears about further measures before the end of the year. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the roadmap out of lockdown in February this year, calling it “cautious but irreversible” plan out of the pandemic. It was subject to four tests at each stage to make sure the rules were lifting when the risk was low. As most of the restrictions came to an end in July, it’s safe to stay the plan went off (almost) without a hitch. This was mainly due to the record levels of vaccinations, with millions of people receiving their first, second, and now their booster Covid jabs. At the time of writing, over 24 million people across the UK have had a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, Moderna or Oxford vaccine.

All of this was before Omicron, the name given to the latest variant of Covid-19, was discovered.

Will we go back into lockdown this year?

The prime minister has confirmed that England won’t go back into a lockdown before the end of the year, even though Plan B restrictions came into place earlier this month.

However, he warned that the situation remains “finely balanced” ahead of the New Year.

In a video posted on social media, Mr Johnson said that people can “go ahead with their Christmas plans” as usual. But he urged caution and suggested that people should take a test before meeting their elderly relatives over the festive season.

“The situation remains extremely difficult, but I also recognise that people have been waiting to hear about whether their Christmas plans, your Christmas plans, are going to be affected,” he said.

I wanted to confirm that people can go ahead with their Christmas plans.

But we’re keeping a constant eye on the data and can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas.

Please continue to be cautious, follow the guidance and Get Boosted Now: https://t.co/VKGvuQ4lzq pic.twitter.com/506RPwP94h

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) December 21, 2021

“What I can say tonight is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas, and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the date – we will do whatever it takes to protect public health.

“But, in the view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, the uncertainty about the hospitalisation rates or the impact of the vaccine rollout and the boosters – we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas.”

This announcement came just days before the Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced that the self isolation rules have changed in England. Now, those who test negative on day six and seven of their quarantine don’t have to isolate for the full 10 days.

While there will be no lockdown before Christmas, as confirmed by the prime minister, the government did put Plan B into place earlier this month.

The new restrictions, all of which were in place by December 13, include new face masks rules in most public places, Covid passes (the need to prove a double vaccination) for some places and work from home instructions.

At a press conference on December 8, Mr Johnson said the new rules were “proportionate and responsible”, given the arrival of the new Omicron variant. Initial indications suggest that the new variant could “lead to a big rise in hospitalisations and therefore sadly in deaths”.

As of December 13, there has been one known death due to the Omicron variant of Covid-19. There have also been 4,713 new confirmed cases of the strain but Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) predicts the correct number of daily infections was actually sitting around the 200,000 mark.

The new rules are: 

Face masks must be worn in more public spaces, including in cinemas and theatres
Anyone who can work from home should do so where possible
The NHS Covid Pass will be a requirement for nightclub visitors, anyone going to indoor unseated venues with more than 500 people, those going to unseated outdoor venues with more than 4000 people and anyone going to an event with more than 10,000 people.

Despite this, Boris Johnson has said that Christmas parties should not be cancelled and school nativity plays should go ahead as planned – as long as social distancing guidance is followed.

In late November, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said it would be “irresponsible to make guarantees” about any new restrictions. And despite a change in the rules less than a month later, he confirmed that the government was “nowhere near” ready to introduce new restrictions like working from home, social distancing measures or closing schools again.

Speaking to Sky’s Trevor Phillips over the weekend, Mr Javid said, “We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-Covid health outcomes such as impact on mental health.

“So, if one was to make decisions like that they would have to be done very, very carefully and we’re not there yet, we’re nowhere near that.”

He also said that people “should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas”.

New COVID-19 measures for England:

From tomorrow:

you must wear a face covering in most public indoor venues, other than hospitality venues

There will be exemptions in venues where it is not practical to wear one, such as when you are eating, drinking or exercising. pic.twitter.com/Phq5gQhGnb

— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) December 9, 2021

Both the health secretary and the prime minister have encouraged people to take up their booster jab when it is available to them, saying it was “more vital than ever”. Currently, only those over 40-years old and people with underlying health conditions are eligible for the booster. Plan are underway to offer the jab to everyone over the age of 18, following updated guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation (JCVI). However, the jab is not yet available at walk-in sites for these age groups.

Health officials have also urged people to continue taking tests for the virus, which are now available again after a temporary shortage in December. Lateral flow tests can be false positive, however, this is highly unlikely to be the case according to new research. So, anyone without symptoms should also use these to test where possible.

But while it looks like England won’t be going back into lockdown before the end of the year, experts have wanted that a tighter clampdown could be on the way if people don’t take to the measures before Christmas.

Professor Greg Towers, Division of Infection and Immunity at University College London, said that if people treat the pandemic like “it’s all over” then there will be higher infection rates – and more chance of a lockdown.

He told Times Radio, “If we don’t wear masks and if we ignore social distancing rules, and if we pretend it’s all over, then what’s going to happen is we’ll get another big wave of infection and we’ll get put into lockdown again. So, if we don’t want lockdown, we’ve got to try and stop the spread by easier means like mask-wearing and social distancing.”

Plan A and B were announced earlier in the summer by the government as the way the country would handle Covid-19 in the winter.

Plan A, which was being followed until very recently, prevented the NHS from experiencing serious pressure through vaccines for more age groups and more testing. As part of the plan, Track and Trace continued and the government encouraged businesses to consider using the NHS Covid Pass to check whether customers had a double vaccination.

Plan B has been put into place now officials believe NHS may come under “unsustainable pressure” due to the Omicron variant.

Earlier in October, following a rise to up to 40,000 cases for eight days in a row, doctors from The British Medical Association said ministers should begin their Plan B. They also accused the government of being “wilfully negligent” for refusing to reimpose Covid rules, such as compulsory face masks.

However, Health Minister Edward Argar said at the time that the NHS was not under the “unsustainable pressure” required to justify new restrictions. “We know how those numbers can rise swiftly, which is why we’re looking at that day by day, hour by hour,” he said. “But at the moment we do have the ability to manage.”

Face masks are now compulsory again in shops and on public transport in England, Credit: Getty.

On announcing the end of lockdown earlier this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that when the measures did lift, it would be “irreversible”. But there would also be “trade offs” involved.

He said, “We can begin safely to restart our lives and do it with confidence. But I want to be frank about exactly what that means and the trade-offs involved. The vaccines reduce the danger of Covid: they save lives and they keep people out of hospital.

“But no vaccine against any disease has ever been 100 per cent effective,” he continued. “So whenever we ease the lockdown, whether it is today or in six or nine months, we’ve got to be realistic and accept that there will be more infections, more hospitalisations and therefore – sadly – more deaths, just as there are every year with flu. Even if we sustained the lockdown indefinitely, which would itself cost lives and do immeasurable harm to our children, we would not be able to eradicate this disease.”

“And that is why it is so crucial that this roadmap should be cautious but also irreversible. We are setting out on what I hope and believe is a one way road to freedom.”

Even when the government delayed the end of lockdown on June 21 by four weeks, the message stayed the same. The Prime Minister continued to stress that England’s approach was “cautious but irreversible”. He also repeatedly referred to July 19 as the “terminus date” for restrictions. Following this, the public dubbed July 19 as “Freedom Day”.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid also said earlier in the summer that there would be no further lockdowns after July 19. He told news outlets that he wanted the restrictions to lift “as quickly as possible”. He added it was “going to be irreversible, there’s no going back. That’s why we want to be careful during that process.”

On July 5, however, the PM did reveal that the government would keep some “contingency measures” in place. These would be “to help manage the virus during higher risk periods, such as the winter”.

He said, “We will place emphasis on strengthened guidance and do everything possible to avoid reimposing restrictions with all the costs that they bring.”

Announcing plans for how the country would “live with Covid”, the government said that they intended to:

Reduce the vaccine dose interval for under 40s from 12 weeks to 8
Move away from legal restrictions to allow people to make their own decisions about managing the virus
Continue with a “proportionate” test, trace and isolate system
Maintain tough border controls (with the requirement to prove a double vaccination before travel)

In late July, experts were still cautioning the public that the situation could worsen in the winter. They didn’t confirm whether we will go back into lockdown this year but said that if cases do rise substantially, the government may have no choice but to enforce restrictions.

Is Scotland going back into lockdown?

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said there is the potential for more Covid-19 restrictions in Scotland before Christmas.

He also encouraged people to take “the greatest of care” when mixing households, following advice from the government for people to limit socialising to three households at a time over the festive season.

Shops and hospitality venues in Scotland have been told to reinforce social distancing measures and screens.

“We hope that we have done enough in the announcements that were made yesterday and we hope that members of the public and businesses will work with us in a cooperative spirit to make sure that we can take these provisions forward,” Mr Swinney told Good Morning Scotland.

But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has assured that the new advice, issued on Tuesday December 14, would not be applicable to Christmas Day.

Nicola Sturgeon had previously warned that she was prepared to enforce Covid restrictions in Scotland before the end of the year. And now, with the emergence of the new Omicron variant, it’s looking more likely.

“Let’s pull together and look after each other again.”

Today FM @NicolaSturgeon announced new measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Watch her message to the people of Scotland

And see more at https://t.co/kZjGNz2EDe pic.twitter.com/DhMcXRaPQU

— Scottish Government (@scotgov) December 14, 2021

And although Scotland is in charge of their own Covid-19 rules, the government have enforced many of the Plan B rules already. This includes the guidance to work from home and the requirement to show a Covid Pass in many public, indoor spaces.

Speaking about the new restrictions, the first minister said,  “Even if you feel angry with a politician just now, please remember just how important compliance is for the health and safety of you, your loved ones and the country.”

Scotland was also the first to float the idea of a circuit breaker lockdown over the end of the summer. It was a potential option to stem the rise in cases before kids went back to school for the new year. However, it didn’t happen and Scotland have retained their Level Zero Covid status since restrictions were lifted in August.

However, the FM used the SNP Conference in November – which occurred just hours after the diagnosis of the Omicron variant in Scotland – to double down on the fight against the virus.

“In recent weeks, we have had much in Scotland to feel thankful for. Compared to many countries across Europe, Covid cases here have been stable – indeed they have been declining slightly. To be frank, that’s a much better position that I had dared hope for a couple of months ago.”

But she said, “There are big and very real challenges ahead over the winter months. Cases are rising in countries all around us. We know that colder weather, forcing us indoors, coupled with festive socialising will create increased opportunities for the virus to spread. And, most seriously of all, the Omicron variant is causing profound concern here and across the world.

“So we must not drop our guard. This is a time to be more vigilant, not less.”

Ms Sturgeon said that a number of countries had been added to Scotland’s travel red list and anyone arriving from these places must now go into a managed quarantine facility. Travellers also have to isolate until they get a negative result from the PCR test that they do on day 2 of their arrival, regardless of where they’ve come from.

Delivering her keynote speech at #SNP21, @NicolaSturgeon strongly urges everyone to get their vaccines.

“For goodness sake, get vaccinated – with your 1st, 2nd and, if eligible, your 3rd and booster doses as soon as you can.” pic.twitter.com/aZP9uI7N8C

— Olaf Stando (@olafdoesstuff) November 29, 2021

“We are also asking close contact of any confirmed cases of Omicron to isolate,” she said, ” That none of this was even contemplated just a few days ago, is a reminder of how fast this virus can move and change. We must, all of us, therefore redouble our efforts to stop it in its tracks.”

However, other ministers have previously noted that there would be issues with financially supporting another lockdown in Scotland. Finance Secretary Kate Forbes claimed earlier this year that the country doesn’t have the money for further intense restrictions and would only be able to enforce them if the UK government was willing to fund a complete shutdown.

Ms Forbes said that there wouldn’t be any money available for furlough if Scotland was forced to go into lockdown again, leaving people unable to work without financial aid.

Speaking a Holyrood’s Finance Committee, she said, “One of the biggest challenges right now from a financial perspective is the fact that there hasn’t been that much additional consequential funding from the UK Government in the last few months.

“Right now we are trying to remobilise the health service, remobilise the justice system, remobilise a whole host of different public services, as well as deal with the ongoing covid impact from a budget that has not been supplemented by additional consequentials coming from the UK Government in the way that it was last year.

“That’s not what we’re discussing at the moment. We’re talking about trying to maximise the impact of the baseline measures. But if we were to, then we have no certainty that furlough will be in place. We have no certainty that self employed income support will be in place. And I have no certainty that there will be any additional funding in place.

She added, “I am not sitting on funds right now that I could deploy to support businesses. We would need additional help from the UK Government.”

Is Wales going back into lockdown?

First Minister Mark Drakeford has already warned that some of the scrapped Covid-19 restrictions could come back and similarly to Scotland, has already enforced many measures similar to England’s Plan B.

COVID-19 vaccination boosters are now showing on your digital NHS COVID Pass.

You will be able to show you have received your booster vaccination if you are travelling overseas and the country you’re travelling to requires it.

Find out more https://t.co/f2fsQ8afzc pic.twitter.com/C14mLmRIbR

— Welsh Government Health and Social Care (@WGHealthandCare) November 29, 2021

Now, anyone going to the cinema, theatre, or a concert in Wales from November 15 will have to prove a double vaccination with a Covid pass.

Pubs, cafes and restaurants also may require the passes if the infections continue to increase.

Will Northern Ireland have another lockdown?

Executive ministers for Northern Ireland have similarly urged people to stick to strict Covid-19 restrictions. Especially ahead of Christmas, as infections are increasing and the health service is under pressure.

In mid-November, infection rates in Northern Ireland were the highest in the UK – above Wales.

While working from home is not compulsory in England, Health Minister Robin Swann said he believes anyone in Northern Ireland who was working from home during the height of the pandemic last year should do so again.

The rules on face masks were never dropped in Northern Ireland either. They remain mandatory on public transport, in shops and in all indoor attractions unless you are exempt.

The post Will we go back into lockdown this year? What the experts say so far appeared first on GoodtoKnow.

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