On Monday 21st February 2022, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s plan for “Living with COVID-19”. Some of the changes will affect all nations of the UK. Others will apply only in England.
What’s in the Government’s plan for living with COVID-19?
Under the UK Government’s plan for living with COVID-19, restrictions in England will become guidance instead of legal rules. You can read the plan in full HERE.
From Thursday 24th February 2022, self-isolation in England will become guidance and routine contact tracing will stop. At the same time, the self-isolation support payment will end in England.
On Thursday 24th March 2022, COVID-19 rules for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will end for the whole of the UK. That means it will not be available from the very first day of sickness. It will be available through the usual SSP rules.
In England from 1st April, free COVID-19 tests will end for most people – that includes PCR and lateral flow tests. Free tests will only be available for the most vulnerable and social care workers (and only if they have symptoms). Other people will need to buy tests.
The Scottish First Minister has said that Scotland intends to keep free lateral flow tests after they stop in England but hasn’t confirmed how long for. Scotland’s plan for “Living safely with COVID” can be read in full HERE.
Wales & Northern Ireland
At this time we are awaiting the details of plans for Wales and Northern Ireland.
Why are they taking these steps?
The Prime Minister indicated that the Government is taking these steps because:
- immunity is high in the population.
- the number of cases, hospitalisations and deaths continue to decline.
- booster vaccines offer strong protection against severe illness and hospitalisation.
- there are now antiviral treatments for vulnerable people who get COVID-19 which help avoid severe illness and hospitalisation.
- Omicron is less severe, so testing is less important or valuable in preventing serious illness.
- the Test and Trace programme is very expensive and they need to reduce it.
What is the UK Government doing to protect people at high risk from COVID-19?
The Prime Minister announced that free testing would still be available for those at highest risk from COVID-19 experiencing symptoms after 1st April 2022.
In addition, a further booster vaccine dose will be offered to all adults over-75 and the most vulnerable over-12s a minimum of six-months after their previous dose. More details of this are available HERE.
By 1st April, the Government says it will publish guidance for people who are at higher risk despite vaccination. This will include some people with lupus who are on strong immunosuppressant and biologic treatments.
The ONS survey which monitors the virus in the population will continue. This should help spot any future outbreaks, including new variants of coronavirus. Large-scale testing can start up again quickly if needed.
What does the COVID-19 plan mean for people living with lupus?
Most people with lupus are well protected from COVID-19 by the vaccines. If you’ve been fully vaccinated and have no other significant risk factors, you are likely to be at a similar level of risk as everyone else in the UK.
However, we know that some treatments can make it less likely the vaccines are as effective for you (such as rituximab and high-dose corticosteroids). We also know that some people with lupus are at a greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of other risk factors.
This is why LUPUS UK, along with 17 other charities, wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to make sure the Government’s plan supported and protected people at increased risk, enabling them to live normal lives. You can read more about this HERE. Our 5 key tests were:
1. Directly address the concerns of people at highest risk and commit to improve communication with them.
2. Smooth, timely access to COVID-19 treatment.
3. Lateral flow tests remain free.
4. Improve employment protection and support.
5. Set out a plan for the use of preventative COVID-19 treatments and prioritise more research into treatments and vaccines
We recognise that everybody wants to get back to normal, not least people at higher risk from COVID-19 who are among those most acutely affected by the pandemic. We are not calling for widespread restrictions. Unfortunately, the plan failed to deliver what the charity coalition felt was needed.
Paul Howard, LUPUS UK Chief Executive Officer, says:
“The UK Government’s plan for living with COVID-19 fails to provide credible precautions and support that would enable over 500,000 immunocompromised people, including some with lupus, to live safely alongside the virus.
“Throughout the pandemic, universal free testing has been a crucial tool. The introduction of lateral flow tests has given many people more confidence to live normal lives and re-establish contact with family and friends by reassuring them that the people they are meeting don’t have COVID-19. The reckless removal of this precautionary measure will disproportionately impact the people already most affected by the pandemic. Regrettably it could force people at high risk from the virus to choose between risking their health and isolating without any government support.
“The announcement of a further booster vaccine dose is welcome, although this will be of little comfort to the small number of people who have had little/no measurable response to the vaccines so far.”
What should I do now?
LUPUS UK will continue to provide regularly updated information and guidance HERE. You can also call our helpline on 01708 731251 (9am to 5pm, Mon to Fri) to information about any new developments.
We hope that our information can help you make decisions about what situations you are comfortable with. It is important to remember that everyone with lupus is different and that you should follow your Healthcare Professionals’ advice about managing risk.
LUPUS UK will continue speaking up to government about what people with lupus need.
What we want to see now
We will be working with our charity coalition partners to call on the Government to:
- urgently clarify exactly which vulnerable groups will continue to get free tests if they have symptoms and how they can access them.
- allow friends and family members of vulnerable people access to free tests.
- expand eligibility for testing to include asymptomatic people in these groups.
- clarify whether testing will still be routine in the NHS and social care settings.
- urgently improve access to the COVID-19 treatments – we have received reports from some people with lupus who experienced difficulty getting them quickly and easily.
- set out a plan for getting effective, preventative COVID-19 treatments to people who are less well protected by vaccines.
- improve communication with people who are at high risk from COVID-19. Upcoming changes to guidance for immunocompromised people needs to be helpful and communicated directly to those affected.
- explain how the additional booster doses will be rolled out, and how people will be invited.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Vulnerable Groups to Pandemics has published a report “Plan, Prioritise, Protect: Redefining the Needs of Vulnerable Groups to Pandemics Through Covid19”. Included within the report is a series of recommendations for how support can be improved in the COVID-19 pandemic and any in the future. LUPUS UK was pleased to support this work and endorse the recommendations included.