No more national lockdowns as Boris Johnson rips up Covid rules

Boris Johnson will make clear this week he is “dead set” against another national lockdown as he rips up the old system of Covid rules and adopts a new approach for winter.

The Prime Minister is expected to argue to Parliament and in a press conference that the UK must learn to live with Covid-19 now that all adults have been offered a vaccine.

Covid laws that are no longer required will be ditched and plans for vaccine passports for nightclubs and other large crowd venues have been shelved.

The travel traffic lights system will be scrapped, PCR tests will not be required for fully vaccinated travellers and, The Telegraph understands, the red list will be significantly reduced.

In a sign of the importance placed on the jabs program, vaccinations for children aged 12 to 15 and autumn boosters for scores of adults will also be rolled out, pending approval from scientific advisers.

But some restrictions, such as new face mask mandates and guidance urging people to once again work from home, will remain as options should the virus surge in the months ahead.

Discussing Mr Johnson’s new approach, sources in his inner circle said it would reflect both the success of the vaccine rollout and the continued threat from Covid.

A senior government source told The Telegraph of the argument Mr Johnson would make: “This is the new normal. We need to learn to live with Covid.

“The vaccines are a wall of defence. The autumn and the winter do offer some uncertainty, but the Prime Minister is dead set against another lockdown.”

The week of announcements – first the domestic changes, pencilled in for Tuesday, then later the new travel rules – marks a major pivot point for the Government’s approach to Covid-19.

The first half of 2021 saw a gradual reopening from lockdown over almost six months, with the public told restrictions were vital as the vaccine program was rolled out.

Now, with every adult in the UK offered a Covid jab, Mr Johnson must decide where to draw the line between restricting freedoms and still keeping the public safe from the virus.

Around 89 per cent of adults in the UK have had a first jab and almost 81 per cent have had a second. Children aged 16 and 17 are now also getting jabbed.

Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures

However, the virus continues to circulate at relatively high levels. Around 38,000 new Covid cases are being reported each day, with close to 1,000 people admitted daily into hospital.

The Prime Minister, according to multiple government sources, is “adamant” he will not impose another national lockdown, preferring to use measures with less economic impact.

He is understood to be similarly opposed to the return of social distancing rules, which the hospitality industry warns have a crippling financial impact on pubs and restaurants.

Plans to legally force nightclubs and other large crowd venues to only allow the double-jabbed in – dubbed “vaccine passports” – will now not come into effect by the end of September.

Vaccine passport in pubs

However, they have not been ditched entirely, with Mr Johnson expected to say it is a back-up option if Covid surges. Aides see vaccine passports as a more palatable option than social distancing.

The green-amber-red traffic light system, often criticised for its complexity, will be replaced with a simpler system with two groupings: a go list of countries, and a no-go or red list.

Double-jabbed travellers will only have to take a lateral flow test before boarding flights to come home and another two days after returning, under current thinking, thereby avoiding expensive PCR tests.

It is expected the unvaccinated will still have to take PCR tests and people returning from red list countries will have to quarantine in government-selected hotels, though details are being finalised.

Travel countries on the red, green and amber list

The Telegraph can reveal the red list is also expected to be significantly shrunk, with a new definition adopted for when countries are put on it, based on dangerous Covid variants.

Currently there are 62 countries on the list. But a much shorter list – possibly based on prevalence of the beta variant first found in South Africa – will be published instead.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said as many as 24 red list countries could fall off the list if the beta variant became a key factor in decision-making.

They included Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Paraguay, South Africa and Uruguay. Two government sources said Turkey could also be removed.

Mr Charles said: “With no new variants of concern since early May, and with the UK having higher levels of delta infection than most other countries, there is no reason to keep so many countries on the red list. It can be sharply reduced in size to help Global Britain, as well as the travel sector, recover strongly. 

“There is no scientific basis anymore on which to prevent travel and enforce hotel quarantine from a vast swathe of the existing list.”

How the rules will change on vaccine passports, travel, working and face masks

Vaccine passports will not be legally required for entry into nightclubs and large venues by the end of the month, despite Boris Johnson saying just that two months ago.

The plans were dropped by the Government after an uptick in vaccinations of young people and a sizable rebellion from Conservative backbench MPs.

However, the proposal will be kept “in reserve” should there be a surge in Covid cases in the autumn and winter. Companies will also be allowed to adopt them if desired.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, confirmed the change on Sunday, saying in an interview: “I’m pleased to say we will not be going ahead with plans for vaccine passports.”

Mr Javid said “instinctively” he was against the idea of people showing paperwork for everyday activities and called it “a huge intrusion into people’s lives”.

However the idea of vaccine passports – a check that someone is double-jabbed before they can enter a venue – is not entirely off the table.

The Government will this week specify which venues would be affected and how the system would work if they chose to adopt it at a later date

The new position is one of many changes to be announced by the Government this week in a new Covid strategy reflecting the success in getting adults jabbed.

Laws scaled back

Emergency Covid-19 laws were passed early in the pandemic to allow the Government to take drastic steps that curbed freedoms to stop the spread of a deadly virus then little understood.

But with every adult in the country now offered a Covid vaccine, the Government is dropping parts of those laws which it believes are no longer needed.

These include powers that temporarily close or restrict access to schools, detain infectious people, restrict events and gatherings or limit how large groups of people can gather.

However the Public Health Act, under which lockdowns were legally enforced, will remain on the statute book, leading to criticism from lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs.

Lockdowns opposed

Since the pandemic broke out, Mr Johnson has imposed three different nationwide lockdowns to deal with Covid-19, sometimes only after being convinced by advisers.

But this autumn and winter, the Prime Minister is determined not to call another lockdown if Covid cases surge, according to Number 10 insiders.

Mr Johnson is believed to argue that with the vaccines now widely available, it would be wrong to use such a blunt instrument to control spread.

Sources close to the Prime Minister have described him as being “adamant” and “dead set” against such a move, preferring less impactful actions if needed.

However, Mr Johnson and his Cabinet ministers are unlikely to categorically rule out ever adopting a lockdown again, accepting the uncertainty inherent when tackling Covid.

Plug pulled on traffic lights

For much of the pandemic, the Government has used a “traffic light” system for overseas travel, with different rules for different categories.

There are currently green, amber and red lists, with the former being for countries posing the least Covid risk and the latter for those where significant risk remains.

The hotel quarantine 'red list' countries

This year a raft of subcategories emerged, including “green watchlist” for countries that could soon turn amber and “amber plus” which brought tighter rules, adding to the complexity.

This system will be replaced with just two different groups: countries where travel is permitted and a “red list” where hotel quarantine remains for those returning.

PCR tests scrapped

The new travel system is expected to see different rules for people who are double-jabbed and those who have not received the Covid vaccine.

The fully vaccinated are likely to only need to take lateral flow tests, rather than the more reliable but more expensive PCR tests, when returning from abroad.

Test Drive: Telegraph Travel reviews PCR testing companies

It is expected they will need to show proof of a negative lateral flow test before boarding a flight home and take another test on their second day back.

That would markedly decrease the costs of going abroad on holiday – a key criticism of the current Covid travel rules, which drive up the expense of overseas trips.

People who have not had two Covid jabs are likely to still have to take PCR tests. Exact details of the new system are still being worked up. 

Red list shrinks

The Telegraph understands that the red list of Covid high-risk countries will be significantly shortened.

Downing Street figures believe the definition for when countries are on the list is too strict and are working with scientists and ministers on a less stringent definition.

The new focus will be on countries with high instances of variants most likely to break through UK vaccines, such as the beta variant, first found in South Africa.

Currently there are 62 countries on the red list. A senior government source said that would be “significantly” reduced, with scientists to pick where to draw the new line.

Masks and working from home could return

Downing Street is most keen to avoid measures that will severely impact the economy as it plans how to respond to a Covid surge as the weather cools.

It is determined to avoid another lockdown and reticent on reimposing social distancing, which the hospitality industry says cripples pubs and restaurants.

However, mask mandates are one lever the Government is willing to pull if needed, meaning tens of millions of people will be asked to wear them indoors again if Covid surges.

Government guidance urging people to work from home could also be reissued if cases risk overwhelming the NHS. That guidance was lifted in July.

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