In response to uncertainty about the new Coronavirus variant, on Wednesday 8th December 2021, the Prime Minister announced that England would move to ‘Plan B’.

‘Plan B’ is part of the Government’s “COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan” which was published in September 2021.

On December 22nd, the Government updated its “Guidance for those who provide unpaid care to friends or family.

From 10th December,face coverings will be mandatory in most indoor settings, such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship.

There will be exemptions where it is not practical, such as when eating, drinking or exercising. For that reason, face masks will not be required in hospitality settings.

People with certain medical conditions are exempt.

Coronavirus spreads through the air by droplets and aerosols that are exhaled from the nose and mouth of an infected person. You should think about wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed areas where you come into contact with people you do not usually meet.

Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser regularly throughout the day. Regular hand washing is an effective way to reduce your risk of catching illnesses, including Coronavirus.

It is particularly important to wash your hands:

  • after coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose
  • before you eat or handle food
  • after coming into contact with surfaces touched by many others, such as handles, handrails and light switches
  • after coming into contact with shared areas such as kitchens and bathrooms
  • when you return home

Where possible, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. If you do need to touch your face, for example to put on or take off your face covering, wash or sanitise your hands before and after.

Coughing and sneezing increases the number of droplets and aerosols released by a person, the distance they travel and the time they stay in the air. Covering coughs and sneezes will help reduce the spread of particles carrying Coronavirus and other viruses, including those that cause coughs and colds.

Everyone should test using a lateral flow device, particularly before entering a crowded indoor place involving people you wouldn’t normally come into contact with, or when visiting a vulnerable person.

Around 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 do not have any symptoms. This means they could be spreading the virus without knowing it. Testing regularly increases the chances of detecting COVID-19 when you are infectious but are not displaying symptoms, helping to make sure you do not spread COVID-19 by staying at home and self-isolating immediately.

Rapid lateral flow testing continues to be available free of charge. You can get tests from pharmacies or online. Find out more about how to get rapid lateral flow tests.

You are at higher risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 in crowded and enclosed spaces, where there are more people who might be infectious and where there is limited fresh air.

You may wish to take a rapid lateral flow test if it is expected that there will be a period of high risk that day. This includes spending time in crowded and enclosed spaces, or before visiting people who are at higher risk of severe illness if they get COVID-19.

Certain places such as health and social care settings, schools and prisons are likely to have their own specific testing rules and guidance. You should always make sure you are aware of this guidance if you visit or work in these places.

If you develop COVID-19 symptoms, self-isolate immediately and get a PCR test.  If this PCR test result is positive, you must continue to self-isolate.  If you do not have COVID-19 symptoms, but you have a positive PCR test result, you must stay at home and self-isolate.

The rules around self-isolation have changed.

You can return to your normal routine and stop self-isolating after 10 full days if your symptoms have gone, or if the only symptoms you have are a cough or loss of taste or smell, which can last for several weeks. If you still have a high temperature after 10 days or are otherwise unwell, stay at home and seek medical advice.

You may be able to end your self-isolation period before the end of the 10 full days. You can take a Lateral Flow test from the sixth day of your isolation period, and another Lateral Flow test on the following day. The second test should be taken at least 24 hours later. If both these test results are negative, and you do not have a high temperature, you may end your self-isolation after the second negative test result. You should not take an LFD test before the sixth day of your isolation period, and you should only end your self-isolation following 2 consecutive negative Lateral Flow tests which should be taken at least 24 hours apart.

If you take a Lateral Flow test from the sixth day of your isolation period, and the test result is positive, wait 24 hours before you take the next test.

Vaccine and booster
All adults in England have now been offered at least 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccines are safe and effective. Getting fully vaccinated is the best way of protecting you and others against COVID-19.

If you have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine, you should get vaccinated. Evidence indicates that 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine provide very effective protection against hospitalisation. It usually takes around 2 to 3 weeks for your body to develop its protective response.

On December 15th, it was announced that every adult is eligible for a booster jab three months after their second vaccination jab. You can now use the national booking service to make an appointment.

On December 23rd, it was announced that where operationally viable, NHS England has requested vaccination centres offer priority access for frontline staff, including unpaid carers and social care staff, which includes access to queue management and priority lines. 

Most people who can get a COVID-19 booster vaccine are also eligible for the annual flu vaccine.  If you are offered both vaccines, it’s safe to have them at the same time.

On Wednesday 22nd December, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended that high-risk children aged 5-11 should have access to the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine.

Work from Home
From Monday 13th December, those who can work from home should do so, allowing us to slow transmission by reducing our contact with others.  Anyone who cannot work from home should continue to go into work, and consider regular testing to manage their own risk and the risks to others. 

As of 24th December, there is no new guidance regarding shielding.

Given the move to ‘Plan B’, we would advise anyone that is clinically extremely vulnerable to take all precautions until we know more about the new variant.

Care homes
On December 14th, the Government updated its guidance regarding visits to care homes.

  • every care home resident can nominate up to 3 visitors who will be able to enter the care home for regular visits (this number does not include essential care givers or preschool age children);
  • visitors should make arrangements with care homes in advance of the visit, so that care providers can manage the number of people attending at any one time to ensure safe visiting practices can be maintained taking into account the size and layout of the care home;
  • the duration of visits should not be limited if safe visiting practices can be maintained;
  • visits should take place in a room most practical and comfortable for the resident (for example, residents with dementia may be more comfortable in their own room with familiar belongings); and
  • visitors should receive a negative lateral flow test result and report it on the day of their visit, either by conducting the test at home or when they arrive at the care home;
  • essential care givers must take a weekly PCR test and share the result with the home. Care homes should use their existing PCR stocks to test essential care givers and these should be registered as ‘staff’ tests using the care home unique organisation number (UON) and be returned via courier with other staff tests
  • take a minimum of 3 lateral flow tests a week: one lateral flow test on the same day as a PCR test, one lateral flow test 2 to 3 days later, and and then again after another 2 to 3 days. These rapid lateral flow tests can be done onsite, at an asymptomatic testing site (ATS) or at home. These tests should be reported as ‘visitor’ using the care home UON; and
  • in line with care home staff, be subject to additional testing should the care home be engaged in rapid response daily testing or outbreak testing. If this includes lateral flow tests, these can be done at home. This testing must be conducted in accordance with the guidance for care home staff on PCR testing, rapid lateral flow testing (including rapid response testing) and outbreak testing.

You may have heard about the NHS COVID Pass.

You can access this electronically via the NHS App, which you can download from Play Store or the App Store.  You will usually need your NHS number to access your records.

If you cannot apply digitally using the NHS App or the online service, you can ask for an NHS COVID Pass letter to be sent to you in the post.