On February 24, 2022, Boris Johnson ended the British government’s social restrictions “Plan B” for dealing with the Omicron variant of the corona virus in England, apparently drawing a line under the lockdown era once and for all.
Following the decision in the House of Commons in January, the Prime Minister said working from home, guidance on wearing masks in public places and showing NHS Covid passports to enter crowded venues should all be scrapped when the infections hit the New Year are declining without the wave of mass hospitalizations feared by experts.
This latest overhaul of the rules also meant those who tested positive for Covid-19 were no longer required by law to self-isolate, removing a previous requirement for sick quarantine to last at least five days and only after twice negative test reappears.
Prior to this move to the government’s more pragmatic ‘living with Covid’ policy, which placed responsibility on individuals rather than the state, then-Health Minister Sajid Javid had already reduced the self-isolation period from seven to five days when the Omicron infection wave did so luckily, the rate that hit Britain in December and rose over the new year did not result in the feared mass hospitalizations.
The law change in February also meant the end of self-isolation support payments of £500 a month for those on low incomes and routine contact tracing, meaning employees no longer had to notify their bosses they were going into quarantine and that they are closed Contacts no longer had to be tested on a daily basis.
The Labor Party and a number of scientific experts protested the decision as premature and the abandonment of face masks and social distancing actually led to a gradual but steady rise in Covid cases in early March.
Since then, life has largely returned to normal, with the national focus shifting to the war in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis and the Conservative Party’s follow-up drama.
However, a spike in new Covid cases this month has prompted experts to warn that the UK is in the midst of a fifth wave of coronavirus infections, now being fueled by Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.
The country saw a 43 per cent rise in cases in early June, apparently due to people gathering over a four-day weekend to celebrate the Queen’s platinum jubilee, and the infection rate has only risen since.
Health chiefs were quick to warn that the new outbreak would have a major impact on an NHS “already on its knees” and expressed concern about the return of big summer live events such as the Notting Hill Carnival and Edinburgh Festival, which sites are at risk of becoming super-spreaders if precautions are not taken.
Eventually, depending on how the situation evolves from here, new measures may be needed to stem transmission, including the introduction of second vaccine boosters.
But at the moment the current NHS advice is that if you think you have symptoms related to Covid you should have a lateral flow test and isolate at home for five days if you test positive to avoid passing it on to to avoid others. Again, this is not a legal requirement.
You should stay away from people who are likely to be particularly vulnerable due to their age or a pre-existing medical condition for 10 days and if you have to be in public if you are unwell you are advised to wear a mask and crowds avoid indoors and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
If you are concerned about your symptoms or think they are getting worse you should visit 111.nhs.uk, call 111 or call your GP.