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COVID-19: Restrictions eased today as England moves out of Plan B and back to Plan A

Face masks are no longer required as England moves out of the government’s COVID Plan B.

The rules introduced over the Christmas period due to the rise of the Omicron variant have lapsed.

The other nations in the UK are also moving to less stringent restrictions, but are not opening up to the level of England.

The advice for pupils and staff to wear masks in classrooms was removed on 20 January, and work from home advice eased on 19 January.

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Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The tireless efforts of NHS and care staff, and the army of volunteers, as well as the phenomenal response of the British public means over 37 million people have been boosted. I want to thank everyone who has come forward to get boosted now.

“Our vaccines, testing and antivirals ensure we have some of the strongest defences in Europe and are allowing us to cautiously return to Plan A, restoring more freedoms to this country.

“As we learn to live with COVID we need to be clear eyed that this virus is not going away so if you haven’t already – please come forward for your first, second or booster jab.”

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However, some companies and services are continuing to ask people to wear masks.

Face coverings will still be mandatory on Transport for London services.

And supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Waitrose will be asking people to continue wearing masks in their shops.

On Tuesday this week, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that, from 4am on 11 February, there will be no requirement for vaccinated passengers arriving in England to do post-arrival lateral flow tests, but they will still need to complete a passenger locator form.

Those who are not fully vaccinated – two jabs, or a single Janssen jab – will need to test before they depart for England, and take a post-arrival PCR test, and complete a passenger locator form.

But they will no longer need to isolate, or complete a day eight test.

Read more: Which COVID travel restrictions are being ended?

Looking further ahead, the requirement for people to self isolate after testing positive for COVID is set to lapse on 24 March – and Boris Johnson has indicated he does not expect to renew them.

Elsewhere in the UK, Scotland announced the reopening of nightclubs and scrapping social distancing this week.

Work from home is still being advised, and face coverings remain on public transport and in indoor public places.

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Crowds are set to return to Welsh sporting events in the next fortnight, and nightclubs will also reopen.

Nightclubs reopened this week in Northern Ireland, although a domestic COVID certificate was still required for entry.

Dr Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser for the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: “The recent decline in community case rates and individuals requiring hospitalisation is encouraging and it’s thanks to the public, who have taken up vaccination and followed the Plan B measures closely, that we’ve got to this point.

“However we should not be complacent. The pandemic is not over yet and we will need to remain cautious to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.

“I encourage everyone to get the vaccine as soon as they can, to continue testing regularly with lateral flow tests – particularly before periods of high risk and before seeing anyone who is vulnerable – and to take a PCR test if they have symptoms.”

Trade union and professional body representatives for the healthcare sector have criticised the easing of restrictions.

Read more: Unjabbed midwife criticises coronavirus vaccine mandate and says expectant mothers support her stance

British Medical Association chair Chaand Nagpaul said the decision to move to Plan A was “not guided by the data”.

And Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “We will have greater freedoms, but the cost – at least in the short term – will be that more people are likely to get sick with COVID and that the health service will continue to have to deal with the extra burdens that this creates.”

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