Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) (No. 6) Regulations 2021 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:07 am on 15th December 2021.

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Photo of Lord Kamall Lord Kamall The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 11:07 am, 15th December 2021

My Lords, I beg to move that the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) (No. 6) Regulations 2021 be approved and shall also be moving the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Entry to Venues and Events) (England) Regulations 2021.

Despite our progress so far and our investment in treatments, the omicron variant has been designated a variant of concern and so we must act now, as quickly as possible, to slow its spread. The UK Health Security Agency predicts that omicron will become the dominant strain within one to two weeks across the whole country. In response, the UK’s four Chief Medical Officers have raised the Covid alert level to 4, its second-highest level.

Although we do not yet have a complete picture of omicron’s severity, it has become increasingly clear that omicron is growing much faster than the previous delta variant and is spreading rapidly all around the world, so its higher transmissibility means it still threatens to overwhelm the NHS. We are seeing increased transmission rates reflected currently in case rates, and the current doubling time for omicron cases is now between two and three days. We need to act now to help slow the spread of the variant and reduce the chances of the NHS coming under unsustainable pressure, while buying time to deliver more boosters.

On 8 December, the Government announced that it was now necessary to implement plan B measures in England in response to the risks of the omicron variant. This includes: extending regulations on face coverings to make them mandatory in most indoor public settings from 10 December; asking those who can work from home to do so from 13 December; and making vaccine or test certification mandatory for entry to certain venues and events from this morning.

Today, we are debating the regulations that bring about the legal requirements for face coverings and certification. These regulations are sunsetted or due to expire on 26 January 2022, but they will be reviewed by the Government in early January. We are also debating regulations that bring important changes to self-isolation requirements to enable fully vaccinated contacts to take part in daily contact testing.

From 10 December, face coverings have been mandatory in most indoor public spaces in England. However, they are not required in hospitality settings such as cafés, restaurants and pubs, or in nightclubs. Exemptions apply—including for children aged under 11 and for those unable to wear a face covering for health or disability reasons. Evidence from the UK Health Security Agency respiratory evidence panel suggests that all types of face covering are, to some extent, effective in reducing transmission.

From today, showing the NHS Covid pass is mandatory as a condition of entry to certain settings in England. This is not a vaccination passport, and people will have different ways to show that they are eligible. Negative test results provide some assurance that an individual is not infectious when the test is taken and for a short time afterwards.

There is evidence to suggest that vaccination reduces the likelihood of infection or transmission to a small degree with delta, which continues to circulate. Early evidence suggests that vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic infection after two doses is significantly lower against omicron than against delta. Nevertheless, a moderate to high vaccine effectiveness is seen in the early period after a booster dose. Vaccine effectiveness is also likely to be higher in preventing severe, rather than mild, disease, and it continues to be vital in response to the high levels of delta cases that continue to circulate.

Covid status can also be shown through proof of a negative test taken in the previous 48 hours, which demonstrates that you are less likely to be infectious, as well as proof of medical exemption or evidence of participation in a clinical trial.

Certification will apply in a limited number of settings, including venues acting like nightclubs; indoor events with 500 or more attendees likely to stand and move around; outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees likely to stand and move around; and all events with more than 10,000 attendees. Vaccine or test certification will not eliminate the possibility of infectious people attending or transmitting the virus in these settings, but it will help to reduce the risks.

The test, trace and self-isolate system continues to be one of the key ways to control the virus and to protect our nation. Yesterday, the Government introduced a policy of daily testing for all fully vaccinated contacts of people who have tested positive for Covid-19. This will identify—or help to identify—the virus quickly and help to break chains of transmission without requiring large numbers of people to self-isolate. To support this, we have removed the requirement in the self-isolation regulations for all close contacts of suspected or confirmed omicron cases to self-isolate, regardless of their age or vaccination status. This was introduced as a temporary measure on 30 November. Unvaccinated adult contacts will continue to be legally required to self-isolate, unless they are participating in an approved workplace daily contact testing scheme. We will constantly monitor and review the data.

Lastly, let us all urge everyone who can have the vaccine to get boosted now. More than 24 million booster or third doses have already been administered across the UK. Our target is to offer this to every eligible adult in England by the end of December.

I thank everyone involved in the vaccination programme for their continued efforts to maintain this tremendous progress over the important weeks ahead. I understand that there are concerns among noble Lords across the House about these regulations. It is always a difficult balance and we hope we have got the balance right. I look forward to continued scrutiny by noble Lords and to their valuable contributions to this debate.