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What are the new Covid rules? When £500 self isolation payments and free testing ends in England

Boris Johnson set out his ‘living with Covid’ strategy which will see England move ‘from government restrictions to personal responsibility’

All remaining Covid laws in England will come to an end on Thursday, including the legal requirement for people who test positive to self-isolate.

The Prime Minister set out his plan for ending the final legal Covid restrictions earlier this week, setting out his ‘living with Covid’ strategy to MPs on Monday (21 February).

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Free Covid tests for the general public will end on 1 April (Photo: Getty Images)

Boris Johnson told the Commons it was time to “move from government restrictions to personal responsibility”, but warned that the pandemic is “not over” and there may be “significant resurgences” in infections in the future.

Several rules changes will take effect in England over the coming weeks. These are all the key dates you need to know.

When will self-isolation end?

From Thursday (24 February), it is no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid.

However, the official public health advice remains that people who have coronavirus should stay at home for five days.

This advice applies to both adults and children, but crucially, the guidance will not be enforced by law meaning people will not face a fine for leaving isolation.

The government is also no longer asking vaccinated contacts, and those under 18, to test for seven days, and has removed the legal requirement for contacts who are not vaccinated to self-isolate.

Contact tracing has also come to an end.

When will free Covid tests end?

For now, free Covid tests will continue to be available, but this will change at the beginning of April.

Mr Johnson has said that provision of free tests cannot continue at their current rate due to the cost of £2 billion per month.

As such, free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing will end for the general public from 1 April.

Remaining symptomatic testing will be focused on the most vulnerable, with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) set to determine the details.

People over the age of 80 and the immunosuppressed are expected to be among those who will still have access to free tests.

A degree of asymptomatic testing will also be maintained in the most risky settings, such as in social care.

The UKHSA will maintain an appropriate level of lab infrastructure to be able to dial back up PCR testing if needed, as well as stockpile of lateral flow tests for a surge in usage if required.

Individual tests are expected to cost a few pounds and to prevent people stockpiling before April 1, individuals will only be able to order a box of tests on the NHS every three days instead of every 24 hours.

When will £500 self-isolation support payments end?

Also from Thursday (24 February), self-isolation support payments and some of the practical support that accompanies them are no longer available.

People in England on low incomes could previously claim £500 in financial support if they were forced to isolate after testing positive for Covid or coming into contact with someone with the virus.

Next month, from 24 March, the government is also intending to reverse changes to statutory sick pay (SSP) and employment support allowance designed to help people through the Covid crisis.

Will I have to get another vaccine?

People aged 75 and over, the immunosuppressed and those living in care homes will be offered another Covid-19 booster vaccine this spring.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the top-up jab will help those at the highest risk of serious illness maintain a high level of protection against the virus.

The NHS in England will offer people the jab from around six months after their last dose, with further details due to be set out shortly.

In interim guidance published for planning purposes, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said a further dose for older people and those at risk is likely to be needed this autumn.

This is because the effectiveness of the vaccines wane over time and Covid surges are expected in winter.

The autumn jab campaign is expected to cover a wider group of people than in the spring and could include any new Covid vaccines that are available.

What about the devolved nations?

Mr Johnson’s plan applies only to England, but that does not mean it will not affect Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in any way.

One major issue is the end to free universal testing in April, which could impact the other nations.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said prior to Monday’s announcement that it would be “premature and reckless” to wind back the programme, while Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said “significant dismantling” of the testing regime would be “inexcusable negligence given ongoing risks”.

However it became clear on Monday that the devolved nations will need to cover the cost of universal free testing beyond 1 April themselves, should they think it necessary.

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