Ending of COVID-19 restrictions in England
On 21 February, the Prime Minister announced the ending of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions in England. The policy document, COVID-19 response: living with COVID-19, suggests that
“Over time, though hard to predict, it is likely that COVID-19 will become a predominantly winter seasonal illness with some years seeing larger levels of infection than others. This may take several years to occur and waves of infection may occur during winter or at other times in the year” .
The Government intends to structure its ongoing response around four principles:
- Living with COVID-19: removing domestic restrictions while encouraging safer behaviours through public health advice;
- Protecting people most vulnerable to COVID-19;
- Maintaining resilience by ongoing surveillance, contingency planning and the ability to reintroduce key capabilities such as mass vaccination and testing in an emergency; and
- Securing innovations and opportunities from the COVID-19 response, including investment in life sciences .
The remaining domestic restrictions in England have been removed. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020, which have been in place since 18 July 2020 were revoked on 24 February: “Local authorities will now be required to manage outbreaks through local planning, and pre-existing public health powers, as they would with other infectious diseases”. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020, which impose a legal duty on individuals who test positive and certain close contacts to self-isolate was lifted on 24 February and was replaced by guidance.
Responding on behalf of the Church of England, the Bishop of London said:
“Although the legal restrictions are being lifted, there may be good reason for us to take some measures as individuals and as local churches. I am conscious that some people with medical conditions will be more fearful now that compulsory isolation for those who are likely to be infectious is ending and we should not lose our focus on the most vulnerable.”
Ending of COVID-19 restrictions in Scotland
On 22 February, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the details of the updated Strategic Framework to manage COVID-19, primarily through public health advice, vaccination and treatment, rather than through legal restrictions: see COVID 19 Scotland’s Strategic Framework Update February 2022. She set out an indicative timescale for remaining legal protections to be lifted, as follows:
- vaccine certification will no longer be legally required from 28 February, although the app will remain available for any business that wishes to continue voluntary certification to reassure customers;
- current legal requirements on the use of face coverings, the collection of customer details for contact tracing purposes, and for businesses, service providers and places of worship to have regard to guidance on COVID and to take reasonably practicable measures set out in the guidance are expected to be lifted on 21 March, subject to the state of the pandemic:
- lateral flow and PCR tests will continue to be free, ahead of a detailed transition plan being published on the future of Scotland’s test and protect programme in March.
People who test positive for COVID-19 will continue to be asked to self-isolate to reduce the risk of infecting other people. The recommended period of self-isolation will be kept under review.
COVID-19 restrictions in Northern Ireland
Health Minister Robin Swann has stated that, though the Department of Health will carefully consider the UK Government’s Living With COVID plan for England and its implications for the Province, no decisions have yet been taken on any changes to Test and Trace in Northern Ireland:
“My Department continues to keep all aspects of the COVID-19 test and trace programme in Northern Ireland under review to ensure it remains proportionate and effective.
Our key priorities for testing include ensuring that it is prioritised for those who need it most. It is also imperative that we have appropriate contingency planning in place, with flexible testing capability which can be rapidly deployed to respond to any future variants or seasonal surges. Robust surveillance systems must also be maintained, to ensure any new developments in the pandemic are swiftly detected.
Keeping the public safe, in particular those at highest risk of severe illness, will continue to be at the centre of our considerations. Any policy changes will be informed by the latest clinical and scientific advice and consideration of the COVID situation in Northern Ireland.”