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Covid: What's the 'Winter Plan' and what are the rules across the UK?

By October 13th, 2021COVID

Pedestrians wearing masks cross Millennium Bridge with St Paul's Cathedral in the background

Image source, Getty Images

The Westminster and Cardiff governments have set out plans to deal with Covid this winter.

England’s proposals contain two options: Plan A, if the number of cases remains manageable, and Plan B, if they reach a point where the NHS starts to struggle.

Wales’ contingency plans could be triggered if a new, fast-spreading variant emerges, or if vaccine immunity levels fall.

What is England’s Plan A?

Under the government’s Covid-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan, Covid booster jabs are being offered to about 30 million people, including the over-50s, younger adults with health conditions and frontline health and social care workers.

Healthy 12 to 15-year-olds are being offered a single dose and unvaccinated people are being encouraged to get jabbed.

Plan A also includes:

  • the continuation of NHS Test and Trace and free PCR tests
  • encouraging free flu jab take-up
  • reminding people to let in fresh air when meeting indoors, and to wear face coverings in crowded places

What is England’s Plan B?

If Plan A isn’t sufficient to prevent “unsustainable pressure” on the NHS, the government can use Plan B, including:

Plan B could be brought in at short notice, following “concerning” data.

Government scientific advisers say it’s important to monitor:

  • the number of hospitalisations
  • rapid rates of change in figures
  • the overall state of the NHS

What are the current rules in England?

A woman holds a small bottle labelled "Covid-19 vaccine", 30 October 2020

Image source, Reuters

What is in Wales’ winter plan?

Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford set out two planning scenarios:

  • Covid Stable, where Wales remains at alert level zero, with all businesses able to open
  • Covid Urgent, where there’s a sudden deterioration in cases, which could be caused by a new, fast-spreading variant, or a drop in vaccine immunity levels

Under Covid Urgent, previously drawn up “alert levels” – including lockdown at level four – could be used as an option of last resort.

“While we do not think measures under a Covid Urgent scenario will be necessary this autumn or winter, we cannot completely rule them out,” the plan says.

Mr Drakeford also announced care home visiting rules will be relaxed.

Visitors will be able to take lateral flow tests at home, and won’t have to socially distance in a resident’s room or designated visiting areas. Restrictions around gifts will also be eased.

Beyond that he confirmed all other current restrictions will remain:

  • Work from home wherever possible
  • Face coverings remain compulsory on public transport, and in shops and hospitals – but not bars/restaurants
  • College and secondary school staff and students should keep testing regularly
  • Face masks no longer advised in schools, but still recommended in crowded spaces like school buses
  • People must use the NHS Covid Pass to show they’ve been vaccinated or have a negative lateral flow test to go to nightclubs, as well as many indoor and outdoor events

Drinkers in bar

Image source, Getty Images

What are the restrictions in Northern Ireland?

  • Up to 15 people from four households can mix indoors in domestic settings
  • No need for advance tickets or allocated seating at live performances
  • Social distancing limits have been lifted in shops, indoor seated venues and indoor visitor attractions, although face coverings remain compulsory
  • Social distancing in hospitality settings remain in place until 31 October
  • Shops and indoor attractions asked to continue using hand sanitising, good ventilation, and one way systems
  • Indoor seated venues such as theatres, concert halls and cinemas advised (but not obliged) to to ask for proof of double vaccination or a negative lateral flow test
  • Face coverings mandatory on public transport and some other settings, unless you are exempt
  • Work from home where possible
  • Dancing not permitted at indoor venues where music is played (apart from weddings and civil ceremonies)
  • Nightclubs remain closed until 31 October

What is the situation in Scotland?

  • Physical distancing rules remain in healthcare settings such as hospitals, GP surgeries and dentists, where the 2m (6ft) rule applies
  • Face coverings still compulsory on public transport and inside places like shops
  • Indoor hospitality venues must collect customer contact details
  • Keep working from home where possible
  • Large event organisers (5,000 outdoors, 2,000 indoors) must apply for permission
  • Secondary pupils have to wear face coverings indoors until the October holidays
  • No large in-person lectures at colleges and universities
  • The government reserves the right to re-impose local travel restrictions
  • All over-18s required to prove their vaccine status at nightclubs and other venues


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