COVID-19: Vaccines, return to tiered lockdown, Christmas, and the route back to normality

Vaccines are at the centre of the government’s plan to ensure life can return to as normal as possible. The government has announced agreements with seven different vaccine developers, securing access to more than 350 million doses to be made available across the UK. Next month, the government will be ready for a UK-wide vaccination programme to begin, provided regulators approve the vaccines. 

A government statement says, “The safety of the public will always come first. A COVID-19 vaccine will only be approved for use if it has met robust standards on safety, effectiveness and quality through clinical trials.”

The government’s route back to normality strategy will be guided by three objectives:

  • Suppressing the spread of infection.
  • Finding new and more effective ways of managing the virus and enabling life to return closer to normal.
  • Minimising damage to the economy and society, jobs and livelihoods. And ensuring education is safeguarded in nurseries, schools, colleges and universities.

A strengthened programme of community testing will allow the government to identify and isolate people who do not have symptoms but are unintentionally spreading the virus. In addition, the government will also roll-out rapid, regular testing nationally to NHS front-line staff, social care and other high-risk or critical settings.

Testing capacity for those with COVID-19 symptoms has increased almost five-fold in six months, from 100,000 a day at the end of April to 500,000 a day by the end of October, with plans to go even further by the end of the year.

The COVID-19 Winter Plan sets out how national restrictions in England will be lifted on December 2nd.

On 2 December, across all of England, regardless of tier:

  • The stay at home requirement will end, with travel being permitted again subject to guidance in each tier.
  • Shops, personal care, gyms and the wider leisure sector will reopen.
  • Collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume.
  • People will no longer be limited to seeing only one other person in outdoor public spaces –  the rule of 6 will now apply outdoors as it did in the previous set of tiers.

The government’s statement on Christmas reads, “The government recognises that Christmas is an important time of year for many people, all across the UK. Regardless of faith, the Christmas period is a time often spent with family and friends, with schools and offices closing and people travelling over the bank holidays.

“Christmas will be different this year, but we will make sure people can see their loved ones. We are agreeing a common approach with the Devolved Administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales for a time-limited change to social restrictions over the Christmas period so that families can be reunited across the UK.

“The fact that this has been a difficult year for everyone means that time with loved ones will be even more important. For this reason the government will allow some increased social contact for everyone (supported by guidance on how to celebrate safely) over the Christmas period. Everybody should make sure they follow guidance to minimise risk to protect their loved ones particularly the most vulnerable.

“The government also recognises the significant sacrifices that people of all faiths have made this year; restrictions have been in place over a number of religious celebrations and observances, and it is thanks to these sacrifices that it has been possible to control the virus. Communal worship will now be possible for all faiths in all three tiers and faith leaders will continue to play a key role, consulting on how to make religious practice as safe as possible.

“This will not be risk-free: COVID-19 continues to pose a very real threat to the UK population throughout the end of the year and into 2021. This means that it will not be possible to celebrate Christmas in the “normal way.” Meeting up with other households will increase the risk of catching COVID-19 and passing it on to others. Each of us needs to take personal responsibility during the Christmas period to limit the spread of the virus, protect our loved ones and exercise particular caution with those who are vulnerable. It is critical that we all get tested when appropriate, self-isolate to protect others, remember the value of fresh air, and keep on protecting each other with Hands, Face, Space.”

A government infographic showing the most important behaviours to maintain in order to suppress the virus. Eight behaviours are shown: Wash hands for 20 seconds, Wear a face covering in enclosed environments; maintain social distancing; minimise the number of people you see and the duration of contact; get a test immediately if you have symptoms; make sure any indoor space is well ventilated; if meeting people, try to do so outdoors; self isolate if you or another household member has symptoms or has tested positive.