Ministers are expected to announce new Covid restrictions across England later on Wednesday, it is understood. Below is a guide to what might happen, and how.
What is plan B, and what does it involve?
Assuming ministers intend to use plan B, this is an autumn/winter contingency plan for fast-rising Covid cases set out when restrictions were lifted over the summer. It set out three mitigations: a requirement to wear a mask in some settings; advice to work from home for a period; and so-called Covid status certificates, or vaccine passports. Advice on mask use has already changed, meaning people are required to use them on public transport and in shops.
What would Covid status certificates involve?
Under plan B, this would involve people having to prove their vaccination status n order to enter “a limited number of settings, with specific characteristics”. These are not set out, but an earlier plan envisaged them being used in nightclubs and similar crowded, indoor settings, although what else this might mean was never clarified.
What sort of vaccination would be required?
The scheme would require two doses of a recognised vaccine. It is possible that in the future, it could be expanded to a booster jab, but as yet most young people have not had the chance to receive one.
Would MPs have to vote on this?
Downing Street has said that it would like the Commons to have its say, but a Commons vote is not necessary. A government document setting out the background for possible Covid certification says that while the government would want to hold a vote on any significant changes to Covid rules, if this was not possible, for example cases shot up during recess, the necessary regulations could be changed using emergency procedures in the 1984 Public Health Act. These would need to be retrospectively approved by MPs within 28 days.
Would the government win a vote on vaccine passports?
Most likely, even if there was a perception that the timing of a move to plan B had been influenced by attempts within No 10 to distract attention from damaging media coverage of the party inside Downing Street last December, in apparent breach of the Covid lockdown in place then. Even if a number of Tory MPs rebelled, Labour has called for plan B to be introduced, and as such would be expected to support the idea.
What is the rest of the UK doing?
In general, a bit more. While – at least for now – the official advice in England remains that businesses should be encouraging people to return to offices, Scotland is already advising people to work from home if possible, and has longer-standing rules on masks. In Wales, from last month people have had to show an NHS Covid pass (which unlike the English plan allows people to also demonstrate a recent negative test instead of just vaccination) to go to theatres, cinemas and concert halls. Northern Ireland has perhaps the most stringent rules, including a limit of 30 people meeting inside homes, and obliging hospitality businesses to collect customers’ test and trace details, and carry out risk assessments for bigger indoor gatherings.
And other countries?
Many other European countries have, in particular, introduced internal Covid certificates as as condition of entry to many places. Since the summer, people in France have had to show a health pass, giving proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test, to enter cafes, restaurants and cinemas, and take long-distance trains.
Germany has more recently introduced a similar scheme for access to places such as restaurants or fitness centres. Other countries have gone further. Austria imposed lockdown rules only for those not fully vaccinated, with the country’s chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, saying this would tackle both rising infection levels and the country’s “shamefully low” vaccination rate.
Other countries to have used or proposed vaccine passports include Denmark, Israel, Greece, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Slovakia.