Covid winter plan Q&A: We answer your questions on how the rules will change

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at a press conference in Downing Street in London, Britain. Boris Johnson wears a suit and tie, and holds up his left hand as he speaks.  -  NEIL HALL/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstoc/Shutterstock
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at a press conference in Downing Street in London, Britain. Boris Johnson wears a suit and tie, and holds up his left hand as he speaks. - NEIL HALL/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstoc/Shutterstock

On Tuesday September 14, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled his blueprint for living with Covid-19 through the winter in a televised press conference from Downing Street. Mr Johnson put the public on alert that a new wave of Covid-19 restrictions - possibly even including a lockdown - could be reintroduced this autumn.

The Government’s “Plan A” for the forthcoming winter involves rolling out third jabs for the over-50s and vulnerable, starting next week, and continuing with the test and trace programme. However, ministers also revealed a “Plan B” if the pandemic resurges. This involves vaccine passports being introduced for large indoor gatherings, masks becoming mandatory again, and a return to working from home.

Your questions on the Government's new winter Covid plan were answered by our deputy political editor, Lucy Fisher, at noon on September 15 during a live Q&A. You can find a recap of Wednesday's Q&A below.

What is the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’?

Q: What is the definition of 'fully vaccinated'? The strategy talks about booster jabs for COVID-19 (which could become annual), as well as expanded flu jab offerings so what exactly would determine a person's vaccine status?

A: Good question - The Daily Telegraph asked exactly the same thing during a press conference with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) yesterday! The issue also arose at a No 10 briefing for reporters.

At present the Government has no plans to change the current rules, which regard adults as being fully jabbed once two weeks have passed after a second dose of the Covid vaccine. Downing Street said the issue would be kept under review, however, it is striking that in Israel, which has been a global forerunner in vaccinating its population against Covid, there are plans afoot to consider people only fully vaccinated once they have had their booster shot.

When will tests for double-vaccinated returning travellers change to lateral flow tests?

Q: Is there any information about when the requirements for a PCR test will be changed to a lateral flow test for double- vaccinated returning travellers?

A: Not yet, but the Prime Minister hinted on Tuesday that a “simplification” of the travel rules is imminent, as he acknowledged travellers’ “frustration” with the current set up. My Government sources tell me we can expect to hear more from the Department for Transport before the end of this week.

What is the point of vaccine passports?

Q: I fear that vaccine passports will merely be delayed until the Spring, as the government will use the lure of access to Summer festivals, sports and large events as a carrot, but, as the vaccine doesn’t prevent transmission, what is the point of vaccine passports?

A: This is an incorrect assumption. The Covid vaccines approved in Britain are shown by the available evidence so far to both reduce transmission and to reduce the risk of serious illness if a person does still contract Covid despite being double-jabbed

Will parents have their say on whether their children are to be vaccinated?

Q: The Government has decided that 12-15-year-olds can get vaccinated. Will parents have their say in this?

A: Parental consent will be sought by schools, where the vaccination of this age group will be carried out. However, children will also have a say and in some cases can override their parents.

Professor Chris Whitty and ministers have pointed out that this is not a new principle of medical ethics - it has been in place since the 1980s. If a child is deemed to be competent enough to make an informed choice, then the child can decide to have the vaccine without parental consent.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi pointed out on Tuesday that the “Gillick competence”, as it is known, is “very rarely” invoked. In the vast majority of cases, children and their parents come to the same conclusion about such matters.

Will the traffic light system and quarantine hotels be scrapped?

Q: There are some reports that the travel traffic light system will be scrapped but the red list will continue, but reduced. What does that mean? Will quarantine hotels continue or will also be scrapped?

A: There are certainly moves afoot to simplify the travel regime. Grant Shapps… or whoever is Transport Secretary after the reshuffle happening on Wednesday… is expected to announce a new set up later this week. Scrapping the traffic light system and replacing it with two simple categories - a green and red list - is being mulled over. The future of quarantine hotels will hopefully become clearer in the next 48 hours.

12:02 PM

Thank you all for your questions

That's a wrap. Thank you to those of you who sent in a question and apologies to those of you who did not get an answer. We'll be back again to answer more of your questions very soon.

We will post a recap of the best questions and answers from this Q&A at the top of this article page, but in the meantime, you can follow our coronavirus live blog and politics live blog for all the latest news.

11:59 AM

What is the point of vaccine passports?

Our final question for today comes from Lisa and concerns the very contentious matter of vaccine passports.

Lisa Lloyd asks: I fear that vaccine passports will merely be delayed until the Spring, as the government will use the lure of access to Summer festivals, sports and large events as a carrot, but, as the vaccine doesn’t prevent transmission, what is the point of vaccine passports?

Lucy responds: This is an incorrect assumption. The Covid vaccines approved in Britain are shown by the available evidence so far to both reduce transmission and to reduce the risk of serious illness if a person does still contract Covid despite being double-jabbed.

11:53 AM

How does the Government ensure the employed clinically vulnerable are kept safe?

Another reader, Eileen Younger, has a question concerning those who are clinically vulnerable and employed.

Eileen asks: The strategy makes no mention regarding people with long-term illness and the clinically extremely vulnerable. It always appears the government assumes these people are retired or unemployed. How does the government ensure the employed clinically extremely vulnerable are kept safe, especially those who work in a face-to-face capacity in people's homes?

Lucy says: Actually, the autumn and winter plan does mention clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people, while certain parts of the strategy apply to people with underlying health conditions - namely, immuno-suppressed adults under the age of 50 will be offered a booster jab (alongside all those over 50 years old).

But you are right there is little specific guidance for CEV people, who are urged to consult their health professional on what extra precautions they should take.

11:47 AM

When will double-vaccinated people be exempt from travel testing?

Karen Miles would like to know: When will double-vaccinated citizens be exempt from the testing regime? These restrictions are making the UK a very unattractive place to visit for business or leisure. However, why allow travel at all from red countries?

Lucy responds: Now that a significant proportion of the UK population is double jabbed, cutting down on the testing burden for inward travel from overseas is being looked at. A move to reduce the bureaucracy is expected to be announced as part of a wider overhaul of the travel rules on Thursday or Friday.

11:42 AM

Will the traffic light system and quarantine hotels be scrapped?

Our next reader has a couple of questions regarding travel restrictions.

B Davidson asks: There are some reports that the travel traffic light system will be scrapped but the red list will continue, but reduced. What does that mean? Will quarantine hotels continue or will also be scrapped?

Lucy says: There are certainly moves afoot to simplify the travel regime. Grant Shapps… or whoever is Transport Secretary after the reshuffle happening on Wednesday… is expected to announce a new set up later this week. Scrapping the traffic light system and replacing it with two simple categories - a green and red list - is being mulled over. The future of quarantine hotels will hopefully become clearer in the next 48 hours.

11:37 AM

What is the date for these changes?

Charles wants to know when the changes will take place.

Charles Bralee asks: What is the effective date for these changes?

Lucy responds: Boris Johnson’s ‘Plan A’ for managing Covid during the autumn and winter starts from now, but don’t expect to see huge changes, since it is largely based on the current arrangements in place, plus a few ‘bolt ons’.

It relies on public health advice about ‘hands, face, space’, as well as the ‘test, trace, isolate’ rules. The ‘bolt ons’ revolve around mass vaccination, such as offering a booster jab to the over-50s and offering a single dose of Pfizer to 12-to-15-year-olds. Both those jab programmes start next week.

The PM’s ‘Plan B’, which could see mandated masks, mandatory vaccine passports and a return to ‘work from home’, will be triggered if Covid soars. The Government has avoided setting out the precise criteria that would entail a switch to Plan B, but factors include high numbers of Covid hospitalisations, a rapid rise in infections, and the overall state of the NHS. These moves could be enacted any time up to the end of March.

11:29 AM

Will the fully vaccinated ever have to isolate again?

Our next question concerns isolation if you are fully vaccinated.

Jason Mclean wants to know: I have had both jabs, will I ever have to shield again?

Lucy says: I’m afraid to say, it remains to be seen. There are unknown variables, including the possibility of a new vaccine-escape variant emerging in the future. For now, the Government is confident that the majority of people who are clinically extremely vulnerable are “well-protected by the vaccine”.

The Cabinet Office’s autumn and winter plan published on Tuesday said that the Government will continue to assess the situation and the risks posed by COVID-19 and, based on clinical advice, will respond accordingly to keep the most vulnerable safe. Individuals should consider advice from their health professional on whether additional precautions are right for them.

11:24 AM

Why would a vaccine passport be needed to confirm vaccine take up?

Julie Branco asks: If the government expects a possible surge of hospitalisations and the majority of the UK are vaccinated is this not a clear indication the vaccines are not effective so why would a passport be needed to confirm vaccine take up?

Lucy responds: No, this is a confused understanding of how vaccinations confer immunity on a population. The vaccine is highly effective. However, it doesn’t prevent all hospitalisations. In addition, while more than 80% of the adult population have been jabbed, there are still five million eligible adults who have not yet received a single dose. These people are at far greater risk of hospitalisation than the jabbed population. As Professor Whitty pointed out on Tuesday, someone not jabbed in their 30s has the same risk of hospitalisation as a vaccinated person in their 70s.

Five million adults who are not jabbed is a big number! Ministers are rolling out a drive to try and encourage more of these people to get the jab. Some MPs suspect the persistent threat of a vaccine passport being introduced is designed to help nudge up the vaccination rate.

11:18 AM

When is the matter of extending emergency powers going to be debated?

Karen Rodgers asks: When is the matter of extending the emergency powers going to be debated? On what grounds is the Government claiming that measures designed to last "three weeks to flatten the curve" should be extended for two years?

Lucy says: A debate on the Government’s winter and autumn plan will be held in the House of Commons today (Wednesday). Many of the emergency powers - such as those that allow the Government to close schools or limit the number of people allowed to gather in one place, are being scrapped.

The tougher restrictions outlined in the PM’s Plan B, such as reintroducing a legal requirement for face coverings or imposing mandatory vaccine passports in some settings, would need new legislation before being enacted, No 10 has confirmed. So MPs would get a chance to debate and vote on them first if they were brought forward.

11:14 AM

Why don’t you give boosters to working people to get them back to the workplace?

An interesting question from our reader Ann.

Ann Coxall asks: Why don’t you give boosters to working people and get them back into the workplace? It is far easier for the non-working population and vulnerable people to stay at home. Surely then we can protect the economy as we cannot survive repeated lockdowns.

Lucy responds: The same argument was made for the first doses of the vaccination programme, but medical ethicists decided it was right to prioritise vaccinating those most at risk of hospitalisation and death from Covid. In addition, the evidence so far suggests that immunity from two doses appears to wane faster in older people and those with underlying health conditions. For that reason it also makes sense to give these cohorts a booster first. The immune response seems to be holding up better in the younger and healthier working population, so they have less need of a third dose.

11:11 AM

When will tests for doubly vaccinated returning travellers change to lateral flow tests?

Another reader has a question on travel testing.

Margaret Pearson asks: Is there any information about when the requirements for a PCR test will be changed to a lateral flow test for doubly vaccinated returning travellers?

Lucy: Not yet, but the Prime Minister hinted on Tuesday that a “simplification” of the travel rules is imminent, as he acknowledged travellers’ “frustration” with the current set up. My Government sources tell me we can expect to hear more from the Department for Transport before the end of this week.

11:04 AM

Will parents have their say on whether their children are to be vaccinated?

Our next question from Teresa Bateman concerns children’s vaccinations.

Teresa asks: The Government has decided that 12-15-year-olds can get vaccinated. Will parents have their say in this?

Lucy responds: Parental consent will be sought by schools, where the vaccination of this age group will be carried out. However, children will also have a say and in some cases can override their parents.

Professor Chris Whitty and ministers have pointed out that this is not a new principle of medical ethics - it has been in place since the 1980s. If a child is deemed to be competent enough to make an informed choice, then the child can decide to have the vaccine without parental consent.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi pointed out on Tuesday that the “Gillick competence”, as it is known, is “very rarely” invoked. In the vast majority of cases, children and their parents come to the same conclusion about such matters.

10:59 AM

What is the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’?

Our first question comes from Jill Talbot who wants to know what determines a person’s vaccination status.

Jill asks: What is the definition of 'fully vaccinated'? The strategy talks about booster jabs for COVID-19 (which could become annual), as well as expanded flu jab offerings so what exactly would determine a person's vaccine status?

Here’s what our Deputy Political Editor, Lucy Fisher, has to say:

Good question - The Daily Telegraph asked exactly the same thing during a press conference with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) yesterday! The issue also arose at a No 10 briefing for reporters.

At present the Government has no plans to change the current rules, which regard adults as being fully jabbed once two weeks have passed after a second dose of the Covid vaccine. Downing Street said the issue would be kept under review, however, it is striking that in Israel, which has been a global forerunner in vaccinating its population against Covid, there are plans afoot to consider people only fully vaccinated once they have had their booster shot.

10:45 AM

Q&A is starting in 15 minutes

Afternoon all. We're getting underway in fifteen minutes. Our Deputy Political Editor, Lucy Fisher, is on hand to answer all of your vaccine questions.

Thank you to those of you that have already submitted a question. Right, shall we get started?

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