Coronavirus rules in England set to change in two weeks

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The Covid rules in England are set to change in two weeks time.

Boris Johnson has revealed that the Government will make some alterations to the self-isolation rules.

These are expected to come into force on August 16.

As it stands, hundreds of thousands of people are isolating for up to 10 days after coming into contact with someone who has caught Covid, Derbyshire Live reports.

However, despite rising numbers of people being “pinged” and the concern about the effect this might have on the economy, the rules will not change for at least another two weeks.

But as a compromise, certain “critical workers” will now be exempt – from NHS staff, railway signallers and air traffic controllers to workers at 500 food sites, The Mirror reports.

It’s complicated though. In most cases, firms will have to apply to the Government for permission one-by-one and only a few thousand workers are expected to be included.

So what are the rules until August 16, who might benefit from an exemption, and what are the rules after that?

Here’s what you need to know.

What are the self-isolation rules now?

Anyone who develops symptoms of Covid should self-isolate for 10 days from the moment those symptoms appear, and get a PCR test.

If the PCR test comes back positive, you will likely receive a legal order from Test and Trace to isolate. If it comes back negative, you can free yourself from isolation.

Meanwhile, almost everyone who has come into contact with a confirmed case – that is, confirmed by PCR – must also isolate. The period varies but is up to 10 days.

If you’re told to isolate by the NHS Covid-19 app (“pinged”), it is not a legal requirement but people are strongly urged to do so by the Government to keep people safe.

If you’re told to isolate by NHS Test and Trace – in other words by test or phone call – it is a legal order and you can be fined £1,000 for breaching it.

Wait, so I don’t have to isolate if it’s ‘just’ the app?

Technically no, it is not a legal requirement to self-isolate when pinged by the app – but it is strongly recommended and will prevent other people from dying.

Despite this, Tory ministers have sown confusion over exactly how necessary it is.

Business Minister Lord Grimstone stressed in a letter to one large employer that the app was only an “advisory tool” and that people were not under any “legal duty”.

Business Minister Paul Scully also suggested it was for workers and bosses to choose whether employees quarantined.

But they were slapped down by No10, which insisted it was “crucial” to self-isolate when told – and business should be supporting employees to do so.

Who is exempt?

Some workers in critical industries and the NHS will be told they can avoid isolation if they’ve been in contact with a Covid case.

Boris Johnson added earlier this week: “We will protect crucial services including the staffing of our hospitals and our care homes, the supplies of food, water, electricity and medicines, the running of our trains, the protection of our borders and the defence of our realm, by making sure that a very small number of named, fully vaccinated, critical workers are able to leave their isolation solely for the work I have described.”

This can broadly be split into two categories – a specific scheme for 500 food sites, and a broader system where firms can apply for isolation one-by-one.

Workers at 500 food sites

All staff at almost 500 food industry sites will still be able to attend work even if they are a contact of someone with Covid.

Instead of isolating during work time, they will be able to take daily tests under the new scheme to reduce staff shortages. Only if they test positive will they have to stay at home.

The scheme will reach close to 500 sites in the coming weeks, ministers said.

The sites will include 170 supermarket depots, plus bread and dairy manufacturers, with “well over 10,000 people” eligible, said Environment Secretary George Eustice.

But the initial programme does not include staff at supermarkets themselves. Mr Eustice told the BBC: “That would be a really significant undertaking because you’re talking then thousands of different shops and many more people. We still want to maintain the Test, Trace and Isolate system.”

Fully-vaccinated workers in 16 ‘critical sectors’

Firms and public sector bodies in 16 “critical sectors” can apply to exempt “named, designated” critical workers from isolation if they come into contact with a Covid case.

However, this is very different from the supermarket depot exemption (above) because firms must apply one-by-one to Government departments, who decide on a case-by-case basis.

They must apply with the number of people who would be exempt, their roles, and “the impact failure to do this would have and when this impact is likely to materialise”.

It’s sparked fears of a massive weight of bureaucracy before the rules change for everyone anyway on August 16. The Government is warning it will not cover the majority of workers in most firms. Railway signallers could be exempted but train drivers will not, for example. The critical sectors are:

  • Energy
  • Civil nuclear
  • Digital infrastructure
  • Food production and supply
  • Waste
  • Water
  • Veterinary medicines
  • Essential chemicals
  • Essential transport
  • Medicines
  • Medical devices
  • Clinical consumable supplies
  • Emergency services
  • Border control
  • Essential defence outputs
  • Local government
  • What do exempt people still have to do?

    Exact details will be spelt out to workers but it’s thought exempt people will only be allowed to avoid isolation to go to work, not anywhere else.

    They must take an initial PCR test then daily lateral flow tests and if they test positive, will still have to isolate.

    Anyone with Covid symptoms or who tests positive themselves must still isolate and cannot be exempt.

    How do firms apply?

    In the 500 food sites programme, workers cannot apply themselves – firms must apply for them.

    Businesses will have to ask Government to class individual named staff as “critical workers” so they can avoid self-isolation and keep the country running.

    The guidance has a list of general departmental e-mail addresses to which firms can apply.

    Civil servants, overseen by ministers, will decide “on a case-by-case basis whether exemptions are necessary” across each individual Whitehall department

    However, No10 stressed most industries involved are already in regular contact.

    When do the exemptions start?

    The exemptions in the food industry have begun and the more general scheme has already begun with civil servants piling through applications for approval or rejection.

    The bureaucracy will raise fears it may be pointless because double-jabbed people can avoid self-isolation from August 16 anyway (more below).

    What will change on August 16?

    From August 16 in England, all double-jabbed adults – and all children under 18 – will be exempt from Covid isolation if they come into contact with a positive case.

    Anyone with Covid symptoms or a positive test will still need to isolate – this requirement is not changing.

    Double-jabbed adults are defined as people who had their second dose at least 14 days earlier.

    Controversially the law only exempts people who had both doses in the UK – so expats who return to the UK or people vaccinated overseas are not exempt.

    Exemptions to isolation are there, however, for people who can “provide evidence” that they cannot have a vaccine for medical reasons; and those on a clinical trial.

    Single-jabbed people will have to keep isolating after contact with a Covid case, either if they’re told by Test and Trace (the law) or the NHS Covid-19 app (recommended). But in a new law, they will be allowed to leave self-isolation to post an antibody test.



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