People are being urged to act with caution and consideration as we enter a new phase of the pandemic in Oxfordshire, following the prime minister’s significant announcement about COVID-19 rule changes.
Despite recent welcome declines in the number of people contracting COVID-19 in the county, the number is still in the thousands each week. The latest figures showed 4,311 Oxfordshire people caught the virus in the week ending 18 February.
What was announced by the prime minister?
With immediate effect:
- Guidance has been lifted for staff and students in most education and childcare settings to undertake twice-weekly asymptomatic testing.
From 24 February:
- People who test positive for COVID will no longer be legally required to self-isolate; however, until 01 April, they will be advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least five full days.
- Fully vaccinated close contacts and those aged under 18 will no longer be legally required to test daily for seven days.
- Routine contact tracing will end.
- Self-isolation support payments will end.
From 01 April:
- Free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public will end.
- Limited symptomatic testing will remain available for a small number of at-risk groups and in targeted health and social care settings.
- Current government guidance on COVID passports will end, including venue check-in on the NHS COVID app.
As we enter a new phase of the pandemic in Oxfordshire, here’s a recap of the COVID-19 rules since the pandemic began:
- March 2020: First national lockdown announced
- May to July 2020: Roadmap out of lockdown, leading to a lifting of many, but not all, restrictions
- September to October 2020: Restrictions including the “rule of six” and regional tiers introduced.
- October 2020: Oxford City goes into local COVID alert level Tier 2 – High Alert.
- November 2020: Second national lockdown, intended as a “firebreak” to slow a noticeable rise in hospital admissions.
- December 2020: Tiered system returns with new tier four and specific guidelines covering Christmas. Oxfordshire moves into the new Tier 4 level of restrictions.
- January to March 2021: Third national lockdown.
- March to July 2021: Roadmap out of lockdown, but this time with almost all measures removed.
- December 2021 to February 2022: “Plan B” measures put in place in response to the Omicron variant.
Advice from the Director of Public Health
“The past two years have shown us how a combination of science and community and individual behaviours can make a real difference with the pandemic. And I would like to thank local people for the important part they have played in that.
“We’re now at a point where we can start to look forward, to live with COVID-19 and be confident about making plans. But my advice is to do this with caution and consideration for others.
“COVID-19 has not gone away. For some – the medically vulnerable and the elderly – it remains a threat. For those who have not had the vaccine, it still has the potential to cause serious illness.
“There are three simple steps we can all take in the coming months that will make a difference and enable us to come out of the pandemic as safely as possible.
“First, be considerate. If you feel ill, then you should still stay away from others and remain at home while you have symptoms. As with any other illness, no one will thank you for sharing it.
“Second, be aware. There will be many in our communities who will be extremely nervous about the recent news. Be conscious of other people’s situations and what they are comfortable with, and adjust your behaviour accordingly.
“Third, be cautious. Our rates are still high and will remain so for some time to come. Making sensible decisions, such as wearing a face-covering in crowded places and letting fresh air into indoor spaces, does not mean restricting what you do.
“I would also ask people to be mindful of the fact that our health and social care system remains under huge pressure. So please only visit hospital emergency departments in genuine emergencies.
“We know that restrictions cannot continue indefinitely and, as we adjust to living with COVID-19, it will be up to each of us to exercise our own judgement about how to keep everyone safe.
“Vaccines remain our most important line of defence against the virus, and I would urge anyone who has not yet had their first, second or booster jab to come forward.
“Detail on further boosters is also emerging, so please keep in touch with government announcements and come forward for a further jab when you are invited to do so by the NHS.
“For many of us, the pandemic has been a very tough time personally. But now, thanks to the power of science and the continued effort of communities across the county, we can start looking to the future. Let’s take the next step together carefully and considerately.”
—Ansaf Azhar, Director for Public Health at Oxfordshire County Council
“From 24 February, we’ll each have to make our own decisions about what we do and don’t do to live with covid. Please remember your actions affect others as well as yourself. Think about what’s right for you and those around you.
“Everyone has made a contribution to getting us to this point, whether you work in front line medicine or simply kept taking steps to keep each other safe.
“Please keep thinking about what you can do – taking up vaccines, when to wear a mask, your options on testing and staying at home when you’re ill. The virus is here to stay. It’s up to us to decide how we live with it.”
—Councillor Louise Upton, Cabinet Member for a Safer, Healthier Oxford at Oxford City Council