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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Will I be able to go on a foreign holiday? And other questions

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Your questions answered illustration

The prime minister has announced his plans for a “roadmap” out of lockdown in England.

Here are some of your latest questions on the issues arising from the plans, and other Covid-related matters:

Questions and answers

England’s roadmap out of lockdown

Your questions


  • Will I be able to take a cruise from the UK this summer? From Anna, Derby

    At this point in time, it’s simply too early to say. For the present, though, no non-essential international travel is allowed.

    The government has set up a Global Travel Taskforce, which will report on 12 April, with recommendations for how international travel could resume without allowing new Covid variants being brought in from other countries.

    Following this, the Government will decide when international travel should resume, but this will be no earlier than 17 May.

    However, this is not entirely up to the UK – other countries will be easing their own lockdowns at different speeds, which may affect travellers’ ability to visit.

    There is also the possibility that an international vaccination certificate could yet be agreed, allowing those who have had the jab greater freedom to travel.

  • We are due to get married on 6 April. Will our register office wedding be able to go ahead? Michelle Fowle, Swindon

    The good news is that your wedding can go ahead. The less good news is that you can only have four guests.

    From 28 March, in England, weddings and civil partnership ceremonies can take place with up to six attendees.

    Under the current lockdown, they have only been able to take place in exceptional circumstances – such as where one of the couple is seriously ill and not expected to recover.

    From 12 April – when the next stage of lockdown easing is planned – it’s hoped that weddings will be allowed to have 15 attendees. From 17 May – the next planned stage after that – the number will rise to 30.

  • Must people carry on working from home? Until when? Elizabeth Brennan, London

    During the national lockdown, people across the UK were told to work from home wherever possible as part of the general “stay at home” guidance.

    In England, the “stay at home” rule is due to end on 29 March, but the government is still advising that people should continue to work from home where they can. They should also “stay local”, minimising the number of journeys they make and avoiding travel at the busiest times and on the busiest routes.

    Where people have not been able to work from home, employers must take steps to make their workplaces Covid-19 secure. This includes supporting social distancing and carrying out enhanced clearning. It is not yet clear how long these extra measures will need to remain in place.

  • I live in Bermuda and have been vaccinated. Can I visit my house in London and not have to self-isolate, free to see family? Lizzie Gibbons, Hamilton, Bermuda

    It doesn’t make any difference whether you have been vaccinated or not. Bermuda is not currently on the “red list” of countries which require you to quarantine in a hotel on arrival in the UK. However, you will still have to follow the general quarantining rules.

    To be allowed entry into the UK, you must be able to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours before travelling. On arrival, you must isolate for 10 days at the UK address you provide on your passenger locator form. You must not leave your house for any reason, not even to buy food, medicines or other essentials, or for exercise. You cannot see friends or family from another household during this period.

    You must also take a coronavirus test on days two and eight of quarantine, at a cost of £210. If you test positive, you must self-isolate for a further 10 days. There is a £1,000 penalty for not taking the test, followed by a £2,000 fine for failing to take the second one, with quarantine automatically extended to 14 days.

    Under the “test to release” scheme, travellers from countries not on the red list can choose to take an extra test on day five of isolation. If you test negative you can stop isolating. If you test positive you must quarantine for 10 more days after the test. Anyone using the scheme still has to take a further test on the eighth day.

  • Will face masks and social distancing still be needed as lockdown eases? James Cookson, Bolton

    It is not yet clear how soon the current rules about face masks and social distancing will be lifted.

    It partly depends on the effect of the Covid vaccination rollout and what happens to the infection rate as other restrictions are eased.

    As part of the government’s four-step plan to end lockdown in England, it has said it will update the advice about social distancing between friends and family “as soon as possible”, but before step three, which is not expected to happen before 17 May.

    It has also said it will carry out a review of all current social distancing rules before step four, which is not expected before 21 June.

    Speaking on BBC Breakfast, the health secretary Matt Hancock said he wanted to get in a position where distancing was a “matter of personal responsibility and social norms” – so people might chose to wear a mask on public transport, but it wouldn’t be compulsory in law.

    However, the government has also said that when secondary schools and further education colleges in England return on 8 March, face masks will be recommended “indoors, including classrooms” where social distancing of 2m (6ft) cannot be maintained, at least for the rest of this term.

  • Now we know that the food industry cannot fully open until May 17, will furlough continue to support those unable to work? From Dawn, Mansfield

    At the moment the government’s furlough arrangements are scheduled to end on 30 April.

    However, Chancellor Rishi Sunak will unveil the government’s Budget on 3 March. Furlough extension is one of the measures he is being urged to consider. The employers’ lobby group, the CBI, is among those who have called for its extension.

  • What are the rules for churches opening? From Veda Royle, Macclesfield

    There is no specific reference to churches or places of worship in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

    At the moment, churches in England (unlike in Scotland or Northern Ireland) are already open for communal services, although they are subject to strict social distancing and hygiene rules.

    These restrictions – which prevent any mixing between households, and limit aspects of the service such as communion – are likely to stay in place until general rules on indoor mixing start to be relaxed.

    The earliest date for this will be 17 May when “a broader range of stand-alone life events” including christenings, may also be allowed.

    The government says it wants to bring an end to limiting social contact by 21 June, which suggests the possibility of a return to normal for places of worship.

End of England’s roadmap out of lockdown

The latest travel rules

Your questions


  • Can I travel back home for my vaccination? I am living in a different county with my support bubble, but registered with
    my GP elsewhere.
    From Ida, Southend-on-Sea, Essex

    Yes, you will be able to do that.

    The whole of England, and most areas of the UK are
    currently under lockdown and people should stay at home.

    However, you are permitted to travel to attend a medical
    appointment.

  • I’m currently in Gran Canaria Spain and planning to return to home (London) around 26th February. Do I need a PCR test? From M Rad, London

    You will need to show evidence of a recent negative coronavirus test before you depart, if the new rules are still in force, but Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has indicated that several different types of test will be accepted.

    From next week, passengers to the UK will need to prove at the start of their journey that they had a negative test for coronavirus less than 72 hours beforehand.

    PCR tests are seen as the “gold standard” because of their high level of accuracy, but the results must be analysed in a lab, meaning they can take a day or more to come back.

    The government has suggested rapid lateral flow tests will also be acceptable. These are quicker and often easier to obtain than a PCR test, usually offering results within half an hour.

    Most UK arrivals – including those from Spain – must also quarantine on arrival for 10 days. You may be able to shorten your self-isolation time if you pay for a test after five days, and it comes back negative.

  • I am in Norway right now. My flight back to Aberdeen is on 12 January. I’m a permanent resident and my husband is Norwegian. What are the arrival requirements? From Dahliah Aziz, Aberdeen

    From next week (exact date to be confirmed) new rules are being introduced for travellers arriving in the UK.

    Before you board your flight from Norway, you will need to show a negative result from a recent coronavirus test. This includes UK citizens.

    In Scotland, this measure will be introduced “as soon as practically possible”.

    Anyone who tests positive for coronavirus will not be allowed to travel. Border Force will be carrying out spot checks on UK arrivals and those who do not fully comply with the roles face a £500 fine.

    Some people will be exempt from the testing requirement, including under-11s, hauliers, and people arriving from the common travel area or countries which do not have the infrastructure to conduct tests – this is unlikely to include Norway.

    Currently, people arriving in Scotland from Norway do not have to self-isolate. But Scotland and the rest of the UK is under a national lockdown, meaning that you should only make essential journeys after you arrive.

End of The latest travel rules

School and university closures

Your questions


  • Why can’t the government decide to keep all pupils and students back a year so that no-one misses out on their education? From Anne Ellioy, Iver

    Making children repeat a year at school is something rarely tried in the UK, even though it is fairly common in the US and some other countries.

    Commenting in June, the Department for Education said it was down to individual headteachers to decide how to educate pupils. “This may, on occasion, include deciding that a child should be educated in a year group other than the one indicated by their age.” It added: “Such decisions should be based on sound educational reasons and in consultation with parents.”

    However, it’s not clear whether the strategy works. Analysis by researchers at Durham University found that pupils who were held back a year were likely to make four months less progress than if they moved up a year with everyone else.

    What’s more, the cost of keeping a pupil back a year is expensive – an estimated £6000, far more than it would cost, for instance, to provide intensive tuition for struggling pupils.

  • My daughter wants to return to university, the course is online until February but her halls are paid for. Is she allowed back? From Jennifer Carter, Bath

    It depends where in the UK her university is. In England, there is nothing explicitly stopping your daughter from going back to her halls, provided she has not been tested positive for coronavirus or is self-isolating. She also should not travel if she is displaying coronavirus symptoms.

    Unless they are doing certain practical courses such as medicine or dentistry, most university students have been told to “remain where they are wherever possible” until at least mid-February and start their term online.

    Students who go back to their university accommodation should either be tested twice upon their return, or self-isolate for 10 days, the government says.

    The higher education guidance for England says there is no ban on moving house “where necessary” including forming new households and moving into shared houses or student accommodation, but it warns that moving households comes with a risk of higher transmission.

    The Scottish government says that plans for students’ return should be developed in consultation with staff and students, and that arrivals should be staggered.

    Students are allowed to travel into Wales from anywhere in the UK if it is to resume their studies. However, the government in Wales says students should not go back until they are told to by their university, when in-person learning will resume.

End of School and university closures

The winter lockdown

Your questions


  • Can I go out for a walk with friends? From David Girling, Portishead

    In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland you can walk with one friend – but not with a group.

    Exercise is allowed with one person who is not in your household or support bubble, in a public outdoor place (for example, a park, a beach or in the countryside).

    You can only exercise with one person at a time, and you should not exercise more than once per day. What’s more, you should not travel outside your local area.

    In Wales, you are not allowed to exercise with anyone outside your household or support bubble.

  • Are support bubbles still allowed for single parents? It was not covered in the prime minister’s announcement. From Liz, Sheffield

    Support bubbles were not mentioned in the prime minister’s lockdown announcement but the rules have not changed.

    You can form a support bubble with another household of any size if you are a single adult living with one or more children who were still under 18 on 12 June 2020.

    As a parent, you can also form a support bubble if your household includes a child who was still under the age of one on 2 December 2020, or a child with a disability who requires continuous care and is under the age of five.

    Other reasons for a support bubble include living by yourself (even if carers visit you to provide support), or if you are the only adult in your household who does not need continuous care as a result of a disability.

    You should not form a support bubble with a household that is part of another support bubble.

  • My elderly mum is my support bubble but she does not live locally (about a 90-minute drive away). Am I still allowed to go to see her? From Tina Howson, Leicester

    There is nothing to stop you continuing your support bubble with your mother. Although the central message of the new lockdown is that everybody should stay at home where possible, the government’s guidance says that you are permitted to leave your home and travel to visit your support bubble (and to stay overnight with them).

    However, it’s important that you follow guidelines when you leave home, which include social distancing, and not mixing with anyone other than your mother.

    When driving to see her, you should also not share your car with anyone not in your household.

  • I am a nurse and my husband is recovering from blood cancer. Going to work means taking chances on his life. Can I be furloughed? From Lisha, Fareham

    If your employer is eligible, you can ask them if you can be furloughed through the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

    While on furlough you would receive 80% of your normal pay up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

    The government has said that workers who need to look after their dependants are eligible for the scheme.

    If you work for the NHS, where most employees are not eligible for the furlough scheme, you should speak to your employer. NHS employers have been advised to be as supportive and flexible as possible towards staff with caring committments.

  • I am 77 years old – do I have to stay in? From Maureen Watkins, Sheffield

    The short answer is that we all have to stay at home, and only leave for a limited number of reasons, such as shopping, or work which cannot be carried out from home.

    If you are also classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, you should be shielding, and only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential.

    The government has drawn up a list of conditions which would make a person extremely vulnerable. Your GP may also add you to the Shielded Patients List if they think you are at greater risk of serious illness.

    However, if you are in good health, your age is not itself a reason for you to shield.

End of The winter lockdown

Latest health issues

Your questions


  • When can people stop shielding? I have my second vaccine tomorrow and I would really like to get back to work as a hospital nurse. Would the advice be different for people working in higher-risk places, as opposed to offices etc, where social distancing could be maintained? From Lara Steele

    The shielding advice remains unchanged at the moment, even for those who have received both doses of the vaccine. The government is keeping the situation under review. In addition, another 1.7 million clinically vulnerable people have been asked to shield in England.

    Shielding has never been compulsory, but is strongly recommended to protect lives.

    People shielding are advised to stay at home at all times, apart from going out to exercise or attend a medical appointment, and keep all contact with others to a minimum and avoid busy areas. You should also try to stay 2m (6ft) away from other people within your household, especially if they display symptoms of the virus or have been advised to self-isolate.

  • Given the under-50s will be the last to be vaccinated, will we see a surge of cases in the normal working population of the under-50s (mainly 40s to 50s) when any restrictions are lifted, and will this be a risk for a further lockdown? From Donna from Derbyshire

    Lockdown has helped get coronavirus cases down in the community, which reduces the risk of people coming into contact with the virus. But social distancing measures are still advised for everyone.

    Even those who have been vaccinated should continue to use face coverings, regularly wash their hands and keep their distance from others to help prevent the spread of Covid.

    No vaccine is 100% protective and immunisation will not stop all spread of the virus. Having the vaccine cuts a person’s chance of getting ill if they do catch it.

    Although people of any age can experience symptoms if they catch coronavirus, people in older age groups, as well as those with underlying health conditions, are at higher risk of getting severely ill. This is why they are being offered the vaccine first.

  • How many covid patients have long covid and what is the maximum time of the illness? From Bryan Thornton

    It’s estimated about one in 10 people who fall ill with covid remain unwell two months after being infected. Long covid can last from weeks to many months.

    Some people who were infected towards the beginning of the pandemic still have long covid now. Others have since recovered.

    The symptoms of long covid are varied and can fluctuate. Doctors are learning more about the condition, including the symptoms that people may experience and how long these can last for.

  • Will the roll-out of first vaccinations be put on hold while the initial groups receive their second vaccinations? If not, how will the ongoing roll-out for first-timers be affected? From John Lilley

    Vaccine deliveries are increasing, but some doses will be reserved for people who need their second “booster” shot.

    The government says it is confident that there will be enough supplies to meet the ambition to vaccinate all people over the age of 50, as well as unpaid carers and people of any age with underlying health conditions, by the end of April.

End of Latest health issues

Travelling to and from the UK

Your questions


  • I’m an NHS worker who has been vaccinated. I have to travel to Poland to help my sister who was diagnosed with cancer over Christmas. What are the travel rules for people already vaccinated? From Daisy Kowalski

    The fact that you have been vaccinated will not affect your ability to travel in or out of the UK, but you should still be allowed to travel to Poland if the purpose of your visit is to provide essential care for your sister.

    Poland insists on a 10-day period of self-isolation for anyone arriving in the country by public transport.

    You would not have to self-isolate if you had a negative Covid-19 test certificate issued within 48 hours before entering Poland (both PCR and lateral flow antigen tests are acceptable). You would have to pay privately for such a test.

    You can also avoid self-isolation if you have been vaccinated against Covid-19 “and produce a certificate of vaccination”. However, the UK does not currently issue certificates of vaccination, and it is by no means certain that Polish border security would accept a vaccination record card as proof.

    When you return to the UK, you will still have to observe the rules which currently apply to all arrivals from Poland – a negative test before travelling, a 10-day period of self-isolation at home, with two further tests taken during that period.

  • Last year we booked a holiday to the Maldives for 3 March 2021, thinking lockdown would be over by then. It is now illegal to fly out of England for a holiday, but BA insists its flights are still operating and therefore we cannot cancel our holiday, and risk losing our money. Surely BA should be offering a refund? From Claire

    British Airways currently refunds passengers whose flights have been cancelled. However, some customers like you may have booked flights or holidays last year which they cannot now take, because of the regulations introduced since then to ban non-essential foreign travel.

    If your scheduled flight is still due to go ahead but you cannot take it, BA will not offer a refund. However, it says that, “customers who are unable to travel, or choose not to, can continue to change their flights or request a voucher for future use”.

    Consumer groups have said they’re unhappy with BA and other airlines offering vouchers. If the price of the flight or holiday is more expensive on the re-booked date, the passenger has to make up the difference, and cannot choose to fly with a different provider who may be cheaper. Vouchers also have expiry dates.

    The government watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority, is carrying out an investigation into whether airlines “have breached consumers’ legal rights by failing to offer cash refunds for flights they could not lawfully take”.

  • I am a British national currently working in Oman. Due to the pandemic, I have not been able to return home since March 2020. Will the UK government supply the embassy here with vaccine doses for expats like me? From Robert, Oman

    The NHS doesn’t provide healthcare for UK nationals who live abroad, and this includes vaccinations. You’re advised to seek medical advice from your local healthcare provider.

    The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) says that it’s closely monitoring other countries’ plans for rolling out vaccines, and can advise British expats where to find information about local programmes.

    Specific advice on Oman can be found on the FCDO’s Travel Advice page and you can sign up for alerts whenever the advice is updated.

  • If we have already been vaccinated, do we still have to spend 10 days in hotel quarantine on arrival from the UAE? From Anonymous, UAE

    There are practically no exemptions from hotel quarantine for UK nationals arriving from the UAE – it is one of 33 red list countries where it’s feared new Covid variants might be spreading.

    If you are vaccinated, you have a greatly reduced chance of catching the disease yourself, but you may still carry the disease and spread it to other people.

    For that reason, you would have to obey quarantine laws or face a fine or prison sentence, just as you will have to follow the lockdown rules when you are in the UK.

End of Travelling to and from the UK

The new variants

Your questions


  • Will the vaccine protect against the original and the new variants of Covid-19? From Juliana Hartley, Sheffield

    So far the vaccines seem to provide equally good protection against the UK variant – which emerged in the autumn and has now become the main strain of the virus in circulation.

    There are signs the vaccine could be slightly less effective against another mutation found in the South Africa variant, but nevertheless the jab will still give very good protection.

    And while the virus will keep mutating, vaccine developers are poised to update their jabs at relatively short notice.

  • If the newly mutated “UK variant” is displaying the same mutation as the SA and Brazil variants, why the need to maintain the travel ban? From Tarik, Llangollen

    Cases of the South Africa variant are in their tens in the UK at the moment, so it’s hoped travel bans will restrict further imports of cases containing this and any other genetic changes, that could make suppressing the virus more difficult.

    The UK variant shares some similarities with the South African one, but doesn’t generally have one of its more worrying mutations. The genetic change dubbed “E484K” shows signs of being able to hide from the body’s immune response and may cause vaccines to be less effective.

    However, the scientists who study the genetic makeup of coronavirus have found a small handful of test samples which, while they look like the UK variant, also have the addition of this alarming mutation.

  • What information is available about the prevalence and distribution variant found in Bristol? Are any additional restrictions in place? From Dave Duggan, Bristol

    A tiny number of samples (about 10) have been detected in Bristol which look like the Kent variant, but appear to have an additional mutation which it’s feared could make the vaccine slightly less effective.

    Everyone in the relevant area is being invited for tests whether or not they have symptoms, and the government has said it is “critical” they stay at home apart from when it is “absolutely essential” – although no formal additional restrictions have been put in place.

  • Do we have the same mutation from overseas or do covid viruses mutate in the same way? From John Price, Brackley, Northamptonshire

    Mutations happen when viruses reproduce inside the body, and there’s a limited number of ways in which they can change – so we do see the same changes happening independently of each other in different countries.

    The UK variant and the South African variant for example are made up of distinct constellations of mutations – but they contain some of the same genetic changes within them.

  • I live in a GU21 postcode which will be supplied with surge testing kits. My concern is the lack of clarity about what we should be doing – the message is very confusing. From Lisa Huggins, Woking

    If you are over 16 and live or work in an area being targeted for the South Africa variant of Covid, you are strongly encouraged to take a test this week, whether or not you are showing symptoms.

    In most areas, home testing kits are being delivered and collected, while some councils are also providing mobile testing sites. The tests are PCR ones, which involve swabbing the nose or throat and are regarded as the most reliable.

    You need to register the testing kit online or via 119 so you can be sent the results. People with symptoms in the “surge” areas are being asked to apply for a test in the normal way.

    No extra restrictions have been placed on the areas, above and beyond the current lockdown rules, and there is no ban on leaving home to work.

    However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged people in the targeted areas to stay at home and only go out when “absolutely essential”.

  • Do I have to go out if work are telling me to? It’s extremely stressful. From Sarah Jennings, Southport

    No extra restrictions have been placed on the areas where testing is taking place for the South Africa Covid variant, above and beyond the current lockdown rules, and there is no ban on leaving home to work.

    However, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said that people in these areas should be having a “conversation with their employer about working from home” to limit the time they spend outside their house.

    Under the current lockdown rules, people across the UK have been asked to work at home wherever feasible, and employers have been told to “take every possible step” to make this happen, including ensuring workplaces are “Covid secure”.

    If you are unhappy and feel your employer is not addressing your worries, you should contact your local council or the Health and Safety Executive.

  • What does it mean that the the new variant of the Covid virus is more transmissible? From Kevin Waite

    The new variant is rapidly replacing other versions of the virus in circulation in the UK, and passes more quickly from person to person.

    Experts are studying the virus to understand what the changes might mean.

    It is possible that the mutations make it easier for the virus to enter cells.

    It might be that people who are infected with the new variant have more of the virus in their nose and throat and can spread it more easily when they cough and sneeze.

End of The new variants

The vaccine roll-out

Your questions


  • Saga Cruises (and some others) say customers will need to prove they have been vaccinated in order to book with them. How can you prove it? Michael Sharman, Twickenham

    Saga Cruises attracted headlines recently when it announced it would not allow any passengers to board without showing proof of full Covid vaccination.

    On its website the company says that it expects all travellers to have received the vaccine at least 14 days before they embark on a cruise. It adds: “You will be required to bring the vaccination document and/or evidence with you as proof at the time of boarding.”

    In terms of proof, people who have been vaccinated could show their record card, but there is no “vaccine passport” currently available, nor are there any concrete plans by the government to introduce one.

  • How safe is the vaccine for young adults with Down’s syndrome? Jane Chatfield

    The vaccines available for Covid are considered extremely safe and there are no reports of serious side-effects.

    People over the age of 18 with Down’s syndrome are currently being vaccinated as they are on the list of those considered to be extremely clinically vulnerable. The government is hoping to offer the vaccine to everyone on this list (as well as other high priority groups such as the elderly) by the middle of February.

    The extremely clinically vulnerable list was amended in November to add people with Down’s syndrome, after studies suggested they were at greater risk of becoming seriously ill if they caught Covid.

    The vast majority of children and teenagers with Down’s syndrome are considered to be at less risk than adults, although teenagers aged 16-18 will be offered the vaccine during the second phase of the roll-out, planned for between the end of February and April.

  • My 89-year-old father had the vaccine a week ago. Is it safe
    to hug him now?
    From Cheryle Locke

    Lots of people are wondering whether having the vaccine will stop them spreading coronavirus.

    We know the vaccine significantly reduces the risk of getting seriously ill with coronavirus. But it is unclear whether it stops people from catching it or passing it on to others.

    So it is really important that people continue with social distancing, wearing face coverings and washing their hands, even if they have been immunised.

    It’s also worth remembering that it takes a few weeks after vaccination before you are protected. For the Covid vaccines currently available in the UK, two doses, spaced weeks apart, are recommended to give the best protection.

    However if you have already formed a support bubble with your father, you can have close physical contact with him.

  • Will the vaccine last for the rest of your life, or will you have to have a vaccine every 12 months, like the flu jab? From Robert Parker, Warwickshire

    It’s not clear yet how long immunity might last after
    vaccination.

    It is possible that people will need to be vaccinated annually
    or every few years to have protection.

  • Can I have the vaccine safely if I am allergic to penicillin? From James, Bristol

    Yes. Allergy to penicillin is not listed as a clinical reason to avoid having either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the
    AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine.

    However, when you are invited for your Covid vaccine, you should discuss your allergies with healthcare staff to make sure there is no other reason to avoid it.

  • Will vaccination teams have regular coronavirus testing, so they don’t infect the people they are protecting? From Ivan Young, Romsey, Hants

    The people giving the vaccines will be wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to help prevent the spread of virus.

    Some will also have already been vaccinated themselves, due to their occupation as healthcare providers.

End of The vaccine roll-out

More vaccine questions

Your questions


  • How do staff know that the vaccine they are giving you has not expired because of incorrect storage? From Keith, Loughborough

    Every vial, which contains several vaccine doses, is stored frozen and has to be thawed and then diluted before people are vaccinated.

    Healthcare staff will be given detailed information on exactly how long the vials can be stored in a fridge (five days) and when they should be discarded after being taken out.

    Prof Jonathan Van Tam says these considerations make this “delicate” vaccine more complicated to get to people in care homes and to the elderly in their own homes.

    But this won’t be as much of an issue in hospitals where vaccine doses can be stored in bulk and used quickly on staff and patients.

  • Is it safe for pregnant women and their babies to take the vaccine? From Abbie Rankin, Dumfries

    At present, women are not advised to have a Covid vaccine during pregnancy, or if they are planning to get pregnant in the next three months.

    There are no safety concerns from any of the data but, as in most trials, the vaccine has not yet been tested on pregnant women.

    As a result, the official advice is that women should postpone being vaccinated until they have given birth.

    NHS guidance says that if a woman finds out she is pregnant after having the first dose, she should not have the second dose until after the pregnancy has ended.

    The vaccine distribution will be largely prioritised by age, so the majority of pregnant women would be low down on the list to receive it in any case.

    Even pregnant women who are at higher risk of coronavirus – with underlying heart conditions, for example – should wait until after their pregnancy and then have the jab as soon as possible afterwards.

  • How can we be sure the vaccine is safe with such a short testing period? From Maddie M

    Although it’s been done quickly, this vaccine trial hasn’t skipped any of the usual steps.

    The only difference is that some of the stages overlapped so, for example, phase three of the trial – when tens of thousands of people are given the vaccine – started while phase two, involving a few hundred people, was still going on.

    Side effects usually show up quite quickly after vaccination and longer-term effects are extremely rare – much, much rarer than long-term side effects of the virus.

    Usually vaccine trials are slowed down by long periods of waiting around, applying for permission, funding and resources.

    It’s those elements that were sped up, because of the huge global interest in doing so.

  • When the rollout of the vaccine begins with the priority 1 group, will those in that group who have had Covid already, be vaccinated? From Neil, Croydon

    People will be vaccinated whether or not they’ve had Covid.

    We don’t yet know how long natural immunity lasts, and vaccination can offer better protection than immunity from the disease itself.

  • Is the vaccine compulsory? From Kim, North Yorkshire

    No, people in the UK are not being told they must have the vaccine.

    However, those in the most at-risk groups (over-70s and care home residents), and people who work in care homes and for the NHS will be expected to have it – to protect themselves and the people they care for.

    Making a vaccine mandatory is not usually recommended because it can lower confidence in the jab.

  • How long will immunity last once vaccinated? From Seth Harris, Norfolk

    Scientists don’t know the exact answer to that at the moment.

    The volunteers in the vaccine trials who were given the jab will be followed up for many months to come to check how long they are protected for.

    Natural immunity to the virus, once someone has been infected, appears to last at least six months so it’s likely a vaccine will offer this length of protection and hopefully a lot more.

  • What must people do after receiving a coronavirus vaccine? Carry on life as normal, wear a mask, adhere to distancing rules? From Mary Mullens

    The vaccine significantly reduces the risk of getting seriously
    ill with coronavirus. But it is unclear whether it stops people
    from catching the virus or passing it on to others.

    So it is really important that people continue with social
    distancing, wearing face coverings and washing their hands,
    even if they have been immunised.

  • Is the Oxford vaccine suitable for people whose immune systems are not strong, such as transplant recipients? From Carol Olley, Newcastle

    If your immune system is suppressed and not working as well as it might, some “live” vaccines are not recommended. This is because the weakened virus they are made from could cause problems.

    The Oxford vaccine is not a “live” vaccine. Scientists are testing which patients could benefit from it and whether this might include people with certain health conditions, or who are taking particular medication or undergoing treatment for something else, such as cancer or HIV.

    There are lots of different Covid vaccines in development and some may be more suitable for different groups than others.

  • Is the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine any safer or more traditional than Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines? From Tom Haslam, Leicester

    These three different Covid vaccines all appear to be safe and effective in trials. It will be up to regulators to check the data and decide whether to approve the jabs for widespread use.

    The Oxford vaccine is based on a more traditional method for making vaccines than the Pfizer and Moderna ones. It uses a modified, harmless cold virus to carry the genetic information on Covid into the body to get the immune system to mount a response. The Oxford team has already used this technology to make vaccines for other diseases, including flu. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a brand new method for making a vaccine.

    They contain a small amount of genetic code, made in the lab, to match the spike protein on the surface of the pandemic virus. This does not alter the genetics of human cells though, but triggers the immune system to make antibodies that can fight Covid.

  • My husband is allergic to eggs and cannot have a flu jab because they use egg to culture the vaccine. Is it the same with COVID-19 vaccines? From Yvone, Albury

    Neither the Pfizer jab nor the Covid vaccines that could soon be approved for use – Moderna or Oxford/Astrazeneca – are made using eggs so there should be no issue for people with egg allergies.

  • Is there any point taking the Oxford vaccine as it is not effective enough? From A Frost

    No vaccine is 100% effective for everyone. And 70% is still very good, particularly for a disease as serious as Covid-19.

    US regulators had said they would accept 50% protection as worth pursuing for Covid. Flu jabs are between 40% and 60% effective.

  • Does the Moderna vaccine have storage and distribution constraints similar to the Pfizer vaccine? From Colin Hayes

    Both vaccines need to be stored at below freezing temperatures when they are transported from the factory out to clinics.

    The Pfizer jab needs to be kept at around -70C, which is somewhat challenging, while the Moderna one can be kept in a normal freezer temperature of -20C.

    Both can be thawed and kept in a fridge once they arrive at the clinic, but the Pfizer one then has a short shelf life of five days compared to four weeks for the Moderna vaccine.

  • I have been waiting for two months for a skin cancer biopsy. Will the Covid 19 vaccination programme mean I wait longer? From Bill Singleton, Bristol

    The NHS has been planning how best to roll out the vaccine. It will be a large-scale immunisation programme, requiring lots of trained staff to administer the jabs.

    Pharmacists, nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals will be able to vaccinate people in a range of settings – including care homes, hospitals and GP clinics as well as pop-up centres, such as sports stadiums and conference buildings.

    It could mean some delays to some non-Covid NHS services, but urgent and essential care will be prioritised. The aim is to keep usual services running whenever possible. You could contact your GP to discuss any concerns you have.

End of More vaccine questions

The NHS Covid tracing app

Your questions


  • Currently the NHS tracing app requires IOS13.5 or above to install, so it is not compatible with older phones. Is there a workaround? From Taraka

    If you can’t download the new NHS Covid-19 tracing app, it is probably because your phone runs on an older operating system. The app will only work on a certain number of newer models.

    This is because it uses technology only recently developed by Apple and Google, which will not work on earlier operating systems.

    Your phone must have the IOS 13.5 operating system installed (released in May 2020), or Android 6.0 (released in 2015), as well as Bluetooth 4.0 or higher.

    This excludes the iPhone 6 or any earlier models, as well as old versions of Apple’s handsets (and some newer Huawei phones).

    If your smartphone is not compatible, the NHS Test and Trace Service is still the first port of call for any contact tracing issues.

  • My wife and I currently live apart until I retire. I live in Cumbria, she lives in Fort William. Which tracing app should I use? From Nick Jowett, Burgh-on-Sands, Cumbria

    Apple and Google’s framework will not allow two apps to contact trace simultaneously.

    So when you cross the border from England to Scotland, you need to open the Scottish app and turn on contact tracing within it. This will bring up a prompt asking: “Switch app for exposure notifications?” When you do this, it will turn off the app you were using beforehand.

  • I have a bar and restaurant and I have just watched BBC news report on the new NHS app and QR code. Where do we obtain the QR code? From Steve Capewell, St Columb, Cornwall

    You can get your own unique QR code at this government website. All you need to enter is your email and your restaurant’s address.

    Every business, place of worship, event and community organisation with a public space should create a unique QR code they can display for visitors to scan.

    You can then print off a QR code poster. It’s a good idea to put the QR poster near the entrance, so that visitors can log their location by scanning the poster with the track and trace app when they arrive.

    If you run more than one venue, you will need to create a separate QR code for each location.

  • I have hearing aids which are connected to my smartphone via Bluetooth, will this affect the operation of the app? From Richard Smith, Milton Keynes

    The government says that the app “has been designed to work in the phone’s background, working alongside other Bluetooth features and devices”, so your hearing aids should be unaffected.

    If you do find some interference, there is an online form to report this to them.

    There have been no reports of interference between the app and medical devices in trials, but the government says it is sensible to be cautious when you rely on a medical device – in particular, it has included advice for people who use pacemakers.

End of The NHS Covid tracing app

All about coronavirus

Your questions


  • What is the coronavirus? from Caitlin in Leeds Most asked

    Coronavirus is an infectious disease discovered in China in December 2019. Its more precise name is Covid-19.

    There are actually hundreds of coronaviruses – most of which circulate among animals, including pigs, camels, bats and cats. But there are a few – such as Covid-19 – that infect humans.

    Some coronaviruses cause mild to moderate illnesses, such as the common cold. Covid-19 is among those that can lead to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

    Most infected people will have only mild symptoms – perhaps a fever, aching limbs a cough, and loss of taste or smell – and will recover without special treatment.

    Coronavirus key symptoms: High temperature, cough, breathing difficulties.

    But some older people, and those with underlying medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer are at greater risk of becoming seriously unwell.

    The NHS has more about symptoms.

  • Once you’ve had coronavirus will you then be immune? from Denise Mitchell in Bicester Most asked

    When people recover from an infection, their body is left with some memory of how to fight it should they encounter it again. This immunity is not always long-lasting or totally efficient, however, and can decrease over time.

    It is unclear, though, if people who have recovered from coronavirus will be able to get it again.

    Hong Kong scientists have reported the first case of a man who was reinfected with coronavirus, although the World Health Organization has warned against jumping to conclusions on the basis of one case.

    University of Oxford’s Prof Sarah Gilbert says that it “probably is likely” that an infected person will be able to be reinfected in the future.

  • What is the incubation period for the coronavirus? from Gillian Gibs

    Scientists have said that the “incubation period” – the time between catching the virus and starting to show symptoms – is five days on average. However, some people can have symptoms earlier or much later than this.

    The NHS is dealing with a large number of people who are seriously ill from Covid-19.

    The World Health Organization advises that the incubation period can last up to 14 days. But some researchers say it may be up to 24 days.

    Knowing and understanding the incubation period is very important. It allows doctors and health authorities to introduce more effective ways to control the spread of the virus.

  • Is coronavirus more infectious than flu? from Merry Fitzpatrick in Sydney

    Both viruses are highly contagious.

    On average, it’s thought people with the coronavirus infect two to three other people, while those with flu pass it on to about one other person.

    There are simple steps you can take to stop the spread of flu and coronavirus:

    • Wash your hands often with soap and water

    If you have returned from holiday abroad and have to self-isolate in quarantine, you will not automatically qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), so it’s possible you might have to make arrangements with your employer if you cannot work from home.

    • Catch coughs and sneezes in a tissue and then put it in the bin
  • How long can you be ill? from Nita in Maidstone

    For four out of five people Covid-19 will be a mild disease, a bit like flu.

    Symptoms include [fever, a dry cough or loss of smell and taste(https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51048366)

    If the virus gets well established in the lungs it can cause breathing difficulties and pneumonia. About one in seven people may need hospital treatment.

    Recovery time will depend on how sick you became in the first place. Some people shrug off the illness quickly, but for others the path to full health can take months, and leave lasting problems.

  • Asymptomatic people are regarded as “silent spreaders” – what proportion of the population are they estimated to be and how do you find them? From Val Holland in Worcester

    This is the subject of ongoing research, but little is still known about how many people are carrying the virus without knowing it.

    Different studies currently suggest a huge range of possibilities for how many “silent spreaders” there are – ranging from 5% to 80% of cases. That was the conclusion of an analysis by Prof Carl Heneghan of the University of Oxford and colleagues who looked at 21 research projects.

    The upshot, they said, was that “there is not a single reliable study to determine the number of asymptomatics”. And they said that if the screening for Covid-19 is only carried out on people with symptoms – which has been the main focus of UK testing policy – then cases will be missed, “perhaps a lot of cases”.

    Some scientists believe that asymptomatic cases may be the main force driving the pandemic, and there have been calls for increased testing to establish how many “silent carriers” there may be.

  • Why are diabetics not included in the clinically extremely vulnerable patients, and will the list be refreshed? from Derek Roberts in Hornchurch, Essex

    Diabetics are not included in the list of people at highest risk. However, some may be advised to take extra precautions if they suffer from a combination of factors, such as heart disease or obesity, as well as diabetes – which put them at much higher risk of complications.

    A third of virus deaths in England from 1 March to 11 May were linked to diabetes, but research suggests the threat for those under 40 with type 1 (insulin-dependent) or type 2 diabetes is still very low.

    Age remains the strongest risk factor for becoming severely or fatally ill with coronavirus, say experts.

    Diabetes UK advises anyone with diabetes to try their best to manage their condition carefully, keeping their blood sugar in range as much as possible, as well as following social distancing measures.

  • How dangerous is coronavirus for people with asthma? from Lesley-Anne in Falkirk

    Asthma UK’s advice is to keep taking your daily preventer inhaler (usually brown) as prescribed. This will help cut the risk of an asthma attack being triggered by any respiratory virus, including coronavirus.

    Carry your blue reliever inhaler with you every day, in case you feel your asthma symptoms flaring up. If your asthma is getting worse and there is a risk you might have coronavirus, contact the online NHS 111 coronavirus service.

  • Are otherwise healthy disabled people more at risk from coronavirus? from Abigail Ireland in Stockport

    Coronavirus can be more severe in older people and those with pre-existing conditions such as heart and lung illnesses, or diabetes.

    There is no evidence that disabled people who are otherwise healthy – and who don’t, for instance, have respiratory problems – are at greater risk from coronavirus.

  • Will people who’ve have had pneumonia experience milder coronavirus symptoms? from Marje in Montreal

    Covid-19 can, in a small number of cases, lead to pneumonia, most notably in people with pre-existing lung conditions.

    But as this is a new virus, no-one will have any immunity to it, whether they have previously had pneumonia, or any other form of coronavirus such as Sars.

    Coronavirus can cause viral pneumonia which requires treatment in hospital.

  • With key workers wearing some sort of mask, how are deaf people who lip-read supposed to understand what is being said? From Margaret Roll in Clevedon

    Wearing masks presents major challenges for some deaf people who rely on lip-reading to communicate, but who also need to stay safe from catching the virus, especially if in a hospital setting.

    The charity Action on Hearing Loss says there are some clinically approved see-through covered face masks that help enable lip-reading. However, they do not provide enough protection against aerosols spread by coronavirus, and wouldn’t be right for health and social care workers to use during this pandemic.

    Many of the experimental coronavirus jabs currently being tested contain the genetic instructions for the surface spike protein that coronavirus uses to attach to and infect human cells. Reassuringly, scientists have not seen any substantial mutations to this part of the virus yet that would render these vaccines useless.

    Researchers have been tracking changes to the

End of All about coronavirus

Protecting myself and others

Your questions


  • What should I do if someone I live with is self-isolating? from Graham Wright in London

    If you’re living with someone who’s self-isolating, you should keep all contact to a minimum and, if possible, not be in the same room together.

    The person self-isolating should stay in a well-ventilated room with a window that can be opened, and keep away from other people in the house.

    If you live with someone who has symptoms, you’ll also need to self-isolate for 14 days from the day their symptoms started.

    If you get symptoms, self-isolate for 14 days from when your symptoms start, even if it means you’re self-isolating for longer than 10 days. If you do not get symptoms, you can stop self-isolating after 10 days.

    If you or your housemates develop symptoms after 00:01 GMT on Monday 14 December, you will only have to self-isolate for 10 days.

  • Should people stop having sex? from Martha Menschel in Las Vegas

    If you live with your partner, they count as being part of your household. If neither of you is showing coronavirus symptoms and you are already in close contact, having sex won’t increase the likelihood of you catching the virus from one another. If one person does have symptoms, they should be self-isolating in a separate room.

    Using contraception such as condoms won’t alter your risk of catching the virus, as having sex will bring you into close physical contact anyway.

    “If you are going to touch each other’s genitals it’s likely that you will potentially be kissing at the same time – and we know the virus is passed through saliva,” Dr Alex George told the BBC’s Newsbeat.

    “Essentially, any possibility of transfer of coronavirus – from your mouth to your hands, to genitals, to someone else’s nose or mouth – increases the risk of passing on coronavirus.”

  • Should I be washing my hair as well as my hands when I come home from outside (heavy breathing joggers passing me, supermarkets etc)? Asme Sheikh, London

    On balance, this is almost certainly unnecessary.

    While hand washing is very important for personal hygiene, none of the advice from the world’s leading health bodies – the World Health Organization for example, the CDC in the US or the NHS in the UK – places any importance on hair washing one way or another.

    It’s theoretically possible that you could catch the virus if someone sneezed on your hair and those droplets found their way to your eyes, nose or mouth (for instance if your hair fell over your face).

    However, research suggests that while virus droplets can survive for a couple of hours on some non-porous surfaces such as steel, there are few – if any – cases of Covid which can be traced back to being transmitted in this way.

  • Why is it that taxi drivers can choose whether to wear a mask or not? Angela Farrington

    The Department for Transport (DfT) has not made it compulsory for taxi drivers to wear face coverings in England because they say they do not want to interfere with the rules and regulations of different transport operators.

    However, DfT still advises that drivers wear face coverings when they are unable to socially distance.

    In any case, many major operators – Uber, for example – insist that face coverings are worn by both passengers and drivers.

    Transport for London has also asked all taxi and private hire companies to ensure drivers wear face coverings.

    Taxi drivers in Wales are advised but not compelled to wear face coverings, but it is mandatory in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

End of Protecting myself and others

Me and my family

Your questions


  • I am five months pregnant and want to understand the risk to the baby if I get infected? from a BBC website reader

    Pregnant women are being advised by the UK government to stay at home and keep contact with others to a minimum. However, they should attend antenatal clinics as normal.

    There is no evidence to suggest that pregnant women are more likely to get coronavirus. But, for a small number of women, being pregnant may change the way their body deals with a severe viral infection.

    The government’s chief medical adviser says this is a precautionary measure until scientists find out more about the virus and that “infections and pregnancy are not a good combination in general”.

  • I am breastfeeding my five-month-old baby – what should I do if I get coronavirus? from Maeve McGoldrick

    Mothers pass on protection from infection to their babies through their breast milk.

    If your body is producing antibodies to fight the infection, these would be passed on through breastfeeding.

    Breastfeeding mums should follow the same advice as anyone else over reducing risk – cover your mouth when you sneeze and cough, throw away used tissues straight away and wash hands frequently, while trying to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

  • Is it possible to catch coronavirus from a pet dog or cat? from Javed

    This is highly unlikely to happen, according to scientists and vets.

    While there are rare cases where an animal has caught the virus from a human, there is no evidence that humans can catch the virus from animals.

    It is possible that a pet’s fur could become contaminated if an infected person has previously touched or stroked the animal.

    But even without the threat of coronavirus, you should always wash your hands with soap and water after handling an animal or its lead, and avoid touching your nose and mouth.

End of Me and my family

Work issues

Your questions


  • I’m self-employed. Can I claim benefits if I can’t work due to the virus? from Mark Gribby in Nottingham

    Self-employed people who have symptoms or have been told to self-isolate may apply for two benefits – universal credit or employment and support allowance.

    Normally, you would be eligible after four days of being ill. However, the government has responded to the spread of coronavirus by saying that companies will temporarily pay SSP from the first day off.

    But charities are worried that there is still a five-week delay before universal credit is paid.

  • Who is eligible for universal credit? from Mario in London

    Anyone aged 18 or above can apply for universal credit if they live in the UK and are on a low income or out of work.

    Students in full-time education aren’t usually eligible for universal credit, but they can make a claim if they do not have any parental support, are responsible for a child or are in a couple with a partner who is eligible for universal credit.

    People aged 16 or 17 can also apply for universal credit if they do not have any parental support, are responsible for a child, caring for a disabled person or cannot work.

    You can use the government’s benefits calculator to find out how much you may be entitled to.

  • If you have to self-isolate will you only get statutory sick pay, or will your employer pay your salary? from Laura White in Herefordshire

    The government advises that people who are self-isolating should work from home wherever possible and be paid as normal.

    If they can’t work from home, employers must ensure any self-isolating employee gets sick pay or is allowed to use paid leave days if they prefer.

    Employees in self-isolation are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay for every day they are in isolation, worth £95.85 per week, as long as they qualify.

    However, employers can choose to pay staff their full wages during this period if they wish.

  • What are my chances of getting a job in lockdown/when lockdown is over? from Jess in Essex

    Research conducted by the Resolution Foundation has found that the coronavirus pandemic could increase youth unemployment by 600,000 this year.

    If you’re worried about finding a job you can head to the National Careers Service for advice on how to find job vacancies.

    Computer with the words

    You can also search online for virtual job fairs. This could help you explore different job opportunities and connect with potential employers directly from home.

    Experts recommend using lockdown to refresh your CV and also look for any online training opportunities which might put you in a better position when you eventually apply for a job.

End of Work issues

Quarantine

Your questions


  • Can I travel to Ireland and then onto another country, then back to the UK via Ireland to avoid the quarantine? from Chris McCann in Sandhurst

    The short answer to this is no.

    It’s true that you don’t have to go into quarantine if you’re returning to the UK from what’s known as the Common Travel Area (CTA) – Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

    When the government first announced its plans, there was some speculation that to avoid quarantine, travellers from other countries would be able to fly into an airport in the CTA, and then on to the UK and so avoid having to self-isolate.

    Departure gate at Dublin Airport

    However, this loophole (termed by some the “Dublin dodge”) has now been closed by the government. Travellers will only be exempt from quarantine if they have been in the CTA for 14 days or more.

    You will have to show proof of when you entered the CTA, and how long you have spent there – such as a boarding pass or itinerary – when you enter the UK.

  • Do key workers have to quarantine? From Mateusz in London

    Key workers will not necessarily be exempt.

    The government has published a detailed list of who will not need to follow the quarantine rules. Among others, it includes road haulage and freight workers, medical and care professionals providing essential health care, some seasonal agricultural workers, Eurostar and Eurotunnel employees, pilots and aircrew and people working to maintain key infrastructure such as the railways.

    Seasonal fruit pickers will not have to quarantine on arrival

    It also depends where you are going in the UK – some employees will be exempt from quarantine in England and Wales, but not Scotland.

    The government guidance details what you’ll need to show when you enter the UK to prove you are exempt. This differs between categories but typically includes proof of your name and address, the name of your employer and what work you’ll be doing.

  • Will my flatmates have to quarantine as well because of me? From Matteo in London

    Unless your flatmates were travelling with you, they do not need to self-isolate or quarantine with you.

    However, you must avoid contact with them and minimise the time you spend in shared spaces like kitchens, bathrooms and sitting areas.

    You should stay in a well-ventilated room with a window to the outside that can be opened, separate from your flatmates, and if you can, you should use a separate bathroom from them. If you do need to share these facilities, regular cleaning will be required after each person has used them.

    Make sure you use separate towels from the other people in your house, both for bathing and showering, and for washing your hands.

  • If I have to quarantine after a holiday and can’t work from home will I get paid? From Emma in Portishead, Bristol

    Not necessarily.

    If you have returned from holiday abroad and have to self-isolate in quarantine, you will not automatically qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), so it’s possible you might have to take the extra time off as annual leave, or else as unpaid leave.

    The Department of Work and Pensions says that anyone planning to travel should do so in the knowledge that they will be required to self-isolate on their return.

    It adds that employers and staff should discuss and agree any arrangements in advance, and urges employers to take socially responsible decisions.

    Meanwhile, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is still advising UK nationals against taking all but essential international travel.

End of Quarantine

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