With Omicron spreading like wildfire across the UK and wreaking havoc with Christmas plans, each UK country has installed plans to stop the spread of the Covid variant as much as possible.
Officials in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are responding to every twist and turn the virus throws up, each devolved health service in a wrangle to keep on top of it while hospitalisations remain low.
Yesterday, as the UK recorded 90,629 daily cases, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that there was currently not enough evidence to justify tougher measures before Christmas, but curbs could be imposed after 25 December.
However, he stressed the situation remains “finely balanced” and did not rule out introducing stricter measures soon after Christmas, as Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned of “tough weeks ahead” for the NHS.
Today, 106,122 people tested positive in the UK, the highest daily total since mass testing began.
In Scotland, where there have been 11 new coronavirus deaths and 2,434 positive tests in the last 24 hours, government figures showed the daily positivity rate stood at 13%, down from 14.9% on Tuesday.
But Scots are preparing for fresh rules as large scale events have also been cancelled.
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford said the Omicron variant was now dominant. He said new rules will apply from Boxing Day, adding that the devolved administration was bringing them in because “the UK government is in a state of paralysis”.
Dr Meng Khaw, National Director for Health Protection and Screening Services for Public Health Wales, confirmed 301 new cases of Omicron variant, bringing the country to a total of 941 cases.
Across the Irish Sea in northern Ireland there were three more deaths and 3,231 new cases confirmed today, up from 2,096 cases on Tuesday.
This represents the highest number of daily cases reported in Northern Ireland since the start of the pandemic.
So, how do these new figures affect the rules now – and how will said rules change after Christmas?
Currently, face coverings are required by law in most indoor settings.
From December 13 office workers who can work from home have been asked to do so and since 15th December, certain venues and events will have been required by law to check that all visitors aged 18 years or over are fully vaccinated., have proof of a negative test in the last 48 hours, or have an exemption.
Today, the Department of Health and Social Care updated the self-isolation guidance for people who test positive for Covid-19.
Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street)
The self-isolation period for fully vaccinated people who have coronavirus is now a week if the person takes two negative lateral flow tests on days six and seven. This was cut from 10 days.
Tests must be taken 24 hours apart.
Those who leave self-isolation on or after day seven are “strongly advised” to limit close contact with other people in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, work from home and minimise contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness if infected with Covid- 19.
There is no change to the guidance for unvaccinated contacts of positive COVID-19 cases, who are still required to self-isolate for 10 full days after their date of exposure to the virus.
Existing public health measures remain in place including, staying at home if you feel unwell, get a test if you experience any COVID-19 symptoms, wear a face covering in crowded, enclosed spaces, work from home if possible, maintain social distancing and regular hand washing and take up the offer of the free COVID-19 vaccine.
Boris Johnson has warned that things may look different after Christmas Day. Asked about plans for the new year on a visit to a hospital, the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid mirrored this sentiment.
“It is fast-changing, the situation, there’s more data not just here from home but from abroad – we keep an eye on all that data and discuss it with our expert advisers,” he said.
“As the prime minister has said, whilst there’s no need for any further restrictions before Christmas we will certainly keep the situation under review.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised on Monday that there would be no fresh restrictions on Christmas Day gatherings.
However Scots are being asked to limit the number of contacts they have and gather in groups of no more than three households in the run-up to Christmas Day, when there will be no limits.
As well as a legal requirement for employers to enable staff to work from home where possible, businesses were last week encouraged to use screens to create a physical barrier between people at till points and self-service checkouts.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday that new measures would be implemented on Boxing Day for indoor and outdoor venues, while pubs and restaurants will have to adhere to new guidance from December 27.
The announcement was another hammer blow for a number of industries, however Sturgeon said support would be given to help firms get through the tough festive period.
Further protections will be implemented in hospitality venues from December 27 in a bid to reduce the risk of transmission in what was described as “higher risk environments”.
As part of these measures, Scots will be required to order drinks from their table at venues that serve alcohol for consumption on the premises.
One metre rules on social distancing will also be reintroduced between groups of people – but this will not apply within a group.
Scots have been urged to keep groups to a maximum of three households.
Sturgeon also announced that from December 26, for up to three weeks, there would be limit of 100 people for indoor standing events, 200 for indoor seated and 500 for any outdoor events. Social distancing of one metre would also be required.
“This will of course make sports matches, including football, effectively spectator-free over this three week period,” she said.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay events have also been cancelled.
At Alert Level 0, from August 7 2021, there are no legal limits on the number of people who can meet, including in private homes, public places or at events. In addition all businesses and premises may be open.
Last week, new measures were announced for workplaces and retail, which will now come into force on Boxing Day. Nightclubs are also set to close.
The new guideline measures come alongside a separate offence prohibiting large gatherings of 30 people or more indoors, or 50 people outdoors, in private homes and gardens.
People also won’t be allowed to meet in groups of more than six in hospitality, cinemas and theatres as the “Rule of Six” returns. Face coverings will be required in hospitality settings at all times apart from when seated.
All licensed premises will need to take additional measures to protect customers and staff, including table service and collecting contact details.
All the new measures will be introduced from 6am on Boxing Day and the ban on nightclubs opening, crowds at sports fixtures and the return of social distancing in Wales will also be brought forward to 6am on Boxing Day.
However, an exemption has been announced so groups of fewer than 50 can watch children’s and grassroots sport.
A general requirement of 2m social distancing in all premises open to the public and workplaces, where reasonable, is also being brought in.
From Monday, workers will receive a £60 fixed penalty notice and companies hit with fines of £1,000 if they go to work when they could work from home.
Stormont ministers today met to agree measures to help manage rising Covid cases as the country recorded its record daily high of 3,231 new cases.
BBC NI reported that nightclubs would have to close their doors at 20:00 GMT on 26 December.
Tighter restrictions in hospitality, like table service and limits on table numbers, are expected.
AFP via Getty Images)
Ministers have yet to sign off on all the proposals and must agree how long they should remain in place, the BBC reported.
Last week, health officials warned that a “significant intervention” could be needed after Christmas.
Full list of steps due to be considered at today’s meeting, according to PA Media:
- Closure of nightclubs
- Hospitality restrictions – rule of six and table service
- Guidance on limiting household mixing
- Social distancing and Covid testing for offices
- Retail – Capacity limits, one way systems and screening
- How to spend extra £100 million