We have taken extracts below from BBC reports that relate to the official end of Covid restrictions in England and the actions being taken in Scotland, Wales, and, Northern Ireland.
We also review the 2022 Covid vaccination programme, focusing on the definitions used for a severely weakened immune system and how they don't apply to ME/CFS. You might still be eligible for this additional vaccine protection if you meet other criteria, like age, or you have another serious medical condition or are undergoing treatment that significantly affects the immune system's ability to provide protection.
It's been a long haul for many people, a time of great adjustment, and anxiety. None of us has experienced anything like this pandemic, and it contributed to the death of more people here in the UK than any other country in Europe. It was a tragedy, and one we must learn from so that we can be better prepared should something similar happen again. But it's too soon to consider Covid-19 and it's variants at an end. The virus will be with us forever and we need to learn how best to live with it.
What will the lifting of restrictions mean to you as someone with ME/CFS? Are you at all concerned by the lack of any ongoing general vaccination programme or the earlier removal of shielding and of self-isolation measures? Do you fear a resurgence of the virus? What steps are you taking to reduce the risk of infection?
Please join the discussions on ME Association social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – or email your thoughts to: Feedback@meassociation.org.uk.
Take good care,
MEA Communications Manager
Covid: England ending isolation laws and mass free testing
All Covid restrictions ended 24 February and free mass testing will stop from 1 April.
The prime minister told MPs the legal duty to isolate for those who tested positive would be dropped as he unveiled his “living with Covid” plan. From 1 April the provision of free testing would be targeted to the most vulnerable, Boris Johnson said.
But the British Medical Association, a doctors' union, said the plan failed to protect those most at risk from Covid. And opposition parties said the prime minister's blueprint out of the pandemic had moved too fast, and voiced concern over the scaling back of free testing. The Scottish government said the public health advice it had received did not recommend lifting the restrictions…
Speaking at a Downing Street news conference on Monday evening, Mr Johnson said “today is not the day we can declare victory over Covid because this virus is not going away”. He described the pandemic as “two of the darkest, grimmest years in our peacetime history”. However, he said the nation had passed the peak of Omicron, with falling cases and hospital admissions. And he said the country could now complete the “transition back towards normality” while retaining contingencies to respond to a Covid resurgence or a new variant…
Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government's chief scientific adviser, warned the virus would continue to evolve over the next couple of years and there was no guarantee that future variants would be less severe than Omicron. He argued it was crucial the nation retained a virus surveillance system to monitor new threats and the capacity to “ramp up” measures again quickly to protect the vulnerable.
Mr Johnson said “targeted vaccines and treatments” would be in place for the most vulnerable, and the government would follow the recommendation of the UK's vaccine advisory body to offer an additional booster jab to the over-75s and the most vulnerable over-12s this spring. He added the government would maintain its resilience to respond to resurgences from the virus, including by keeping the Office for National Statistics infection surveillance survey to keep track of surges when they happen.
Covid Vaccination Programme 2022
An additional booster dose will be offered to all adults over-75 and the most vulnerable over-12s in the UK this spring. The UK's vaccines advisers said an extra dose would help top up their protection against severe Covid-19. Many of the oldest received their latest shot back in the autumn and immunity may now be waning, it said. An autumn booster programme, aimed at a wider group of people, is also planned later this year. Up until now, only people with severely weakened immune systems had been eligible for a fourth dose – three doses plus a booster.
Those now being offered a second booster this spring, to be administered six months after their previous dose, are:
- adults aged 75 years and over.
- residents in a care home for older adults.
- individuals aged 12 years and over who are immunosuppressed, or have weakened immune systems.
Source: BBC News: Extra Covid booster in spring for over-75s and high risk.
ME Association Note: Vaccine Eligibility 2022
Most people with ME/CFS will have had (or will at least have been offered) two vaccinations and a booster, or might still be waiting to have the booster, as part of the general programme that began in 2021.
The 2022 additional vaccination programme is unlikely to affect people with ME/CFS unless they meet the speciffic criteria shown opposite. ME/CFS is not believed to cause a severely weakened immune system in this respect.
The definitions used for having a severely affected immune system can be read by following the links below. If you are in doubt about eligibility, please consult your doctor although you should be sent a letter by the NHS inviting you to have a vaccination if your medical records reveal eligibility.
What is Changing in England?
The government has set out its “Living with Covid” plan.
From 24 February:
- people with Covid are not legally required to self-isolate.
- however, guidance recommends that those who test positive stay at home and avoid contact with others for at least five full days.
- self-isolation support payments of £500 for those on low incomes have stopped.
- routine contact tracing has ended – people in contact with someone with Covid will no longer be advised to self-isolate or take daily tests.
- workers are not required to tell their employer if they need to self-isolate.
- face coverings are not mandatory on Transport for London's tubes, trains or buses, but they are still “strongly encouraged”.
From 1 April:
- PCR and lateral flow Covid tests will no longer be free for most people.
- Covid passports will no longer be recommended, except for international travel.
- employers will no longer have to consider Covid as a separate risk when working out how to keep employees safe.
How are the rules changing in Scotland?
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has set out plans for easing most of Scotland's remaining Covid restrictions.
From 28 February:
- Scotland's Covid certification scheme will end, although businesses and venues can still keep using it if they want
- secondary school pupils will no longer need to wear masks in the classroom
From 21 March:
- masks will no longer be legally required on public transport and indoor venues (although their use will still be “strongly recommended”
- businesses, places of worship and service providers will no longer have to follow government guidance on measures to avoid Covid
- there will be no requirement for businesses and service providers to keep customer contact details
Ms Sturgeon said that – unlike in England – there was no plan to scrap the requirement to self-isolate for people who tested positive.
The current restrictions include:
- shops and businesses need to take measures to limit the spread of Covid.
- face coverings are compulsory on public transport and most indoor spaces, including shops and secondary schools.
- a Covid certification scheme remains in place for venues including nightclubs, meaning people must provide proof of their vaccination status or a recent negative test.
- A 2m distancing rule remains in healthcare settings such as hospitals, doctors' surgeries and dentists.
- What are the Covid rules in Scotland?
How are the rules changing in Wales?
A gradual easing of Covid restrictions is under way.
Nightclubs have reopened, social distancing rules have been lifted and limits on socialising in pubs and restaurants – known as the rule of six – have been removed. The legal requirement to work from home has also ended.
Some measures remain in place:
- compulsory face coverings in schools, on public transport and in shops and hospitals.
- secondary school pupils are asked to test for Covid three times a week.
- What are the Covid rules in Wales?
How are the rules changing in Northern Ireland?
Covid certificates for nightclubs, mandatory face coverings, track and trace requirements and the cap on 30 people in private homes are no longer legal requirements. Legal measures have been replaced by guidance, which recommends that face masks are still worn in certain public settings.