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As a wave of Omicron continues to batter the nation with case numbers growing every day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has continued to resist imposing any further Covid restrictions on households in England.
Another 162,572 confirmed Covid cases were recorded in England on Saturday – breaking yet another record for the highest daily infection total.
Hospital admissions were also on the increase, here with a further 1,915 Covid hospital admissions reported as of December 27, an increase of 62% week on week, and the highest total recorded since February 8 at the height of the Delta surge.
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To combat the rising infection numbers, tighter rules have already been rolled out in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – yet no such move has been decided for England.
Ministers did however, rule that secondary school pupils in England must resume mask wearing in the classroom when they return after the Christmas holidays, with the measure expected to last until at least January 26.
The education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi wrote in The Sunday Telegraph: “There can be no excuse for our children not learning face to face in the classroom where they want and need to be.”
Meanwhile, the government is already drawing up contingency plans to combat increasing numbers of staff absences, as they attempt to quell any potential disruption.
When will there be another announcement?
No formal announcement has been given by the government as to when we can expect to hear more news about whether to tighten restrictions, but speculation is rife that the Prime Minister will need to make a decision in the coming days in response to worsening infection rates.
In the past, many announcements have come with little warning, but several sources have suggested that the PM is currently considering the reintroduction of ‘step two’, which would see tighter restrictions being imposed on household mixing once again.
As with most of the significant updates during the pandemic, it is likely any announcement would follow the pattern of previous ones, and fall in the early evening at around 5pm.
What could new Covid restrictions look like?
In a Daily Mail article published yesterday (January 1), Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Curbs on our freedom must be an absolute last resort.”
“The Covid-19 pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges our health service has ever faced and our historic vaccination programme has been vital in helping us step up to meet this challenge.
“Please remain cautious and when we get into the New Year, of course, we will see then whether we do need to take any further measures but nothing more until then at least.”
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Full ‘Step 2’ – with indoor gatherings ban
Government advisers have discussed two possible options for ‘Step 2’ restrictions, including a more lenient version entitled Step 2 ‘lite’.
Step 2 would see a return to restrictions imposed like those previously imposed on 12 April 2021. During this period, indoor gatherings between different households were banned, there was no longer be any indoor service in pubs and restaurants, and the rule of 6 was imposed on people meeting outdoors.
Overnight stays with people outside your household were also banned, as was travel overseas for holidays.
Nightclubs in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have already been closed to combat covid, but up until now Boris Johnson has resisted doing the same in England.
Nightclubs, large venues and places open past 1am must now request to see ‘Covid passes’, with attendees only permitted access if they can provide proof of two vaccinations or a negative covid test.
Rule of six
Wales and Northern Ireland have already reimposed the ‘rule of six’ on indoor gatherings, in public places such as pubs and restaurants.
Scotland, however, has not brought back the rule of six – instead asking people to restrict gatherings to three households or less.
Officials at Whitehall have reportedly looked at potentially bringing back the ‘Rule of Six’ in England, but The Telegraph’s sources did not specify whether any future six-person limit would apply to private homes or just public venues. They also didn’t confirm whether the rule would apply outdoors as well as indoors.
Limits on numbers in venues and events
Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have all introduced restrictions on the number of people permitted to attend events.
In Wales, indoor gatherings have been limited to 30 people – and outdoor ones to 50 people. While, in Scotland, there are capacity limits of 200 people at indoor seated events and 100 at indoor standing events. Hospitality venues have also been told to ensure there is sufficient space for social distancing of at least 1m between individual groups in a venue.
Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, indoor gatherings have been limited to just 30 people – a restriction now imposed by law.
All of these restrictions are still less strict than April’s ‘Step 2’ measures.
Table service in pubs
Pubs across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all been told to return to table service. This again is less strict than April’s ‘Step 2’, when pubs and bars were restricted to only serving outdoors.
Weddings and funerals
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all made the decision not to impose size limits on any weddings at this time. England has also confirmed that “Significant life events” – such as weddings and funerals – will be exempt from any tougher measures, according to The Times.
Guidance, or legal restrictions?
A combination of guidance and laws have been introduced to support covid measures across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
However, Boris Johnson has vowed to debate any laws in Parliament before enacting them, largely due to opposition within his own party.
At present, Parliament is not due to return until January 4, which suggests January 5 is the earliest start date for any legal restrictions – unless he chooses to recall the House of Commons early.
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