Parliamentary process

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation etc) (Revocation) (England) Regulations 2022 were laid before Parliament on 22 February 2022 and came into force on 24 February 2022. They are subject to the ‘made affirmative’ procedure. This means they must be approved by both Houses of Parliament within 28 parliamentary sitting days or they will cease to apply.

A Grand Committee of the House of Lords is due to debate the regulations on 14 March 2022. The committee can debate the regulations, but it cannot approve them. In most cases where a debate on a statutory instrument takes place in Grand Committee, the approval motion itself is agreed in a sitting of the whole House without further debate. However, on this occasion, a motion to regret the instrument, tabled by Baroness Brinton, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for health, is scheduled to be debated alongside the approval motion. This is due to take place on 17 March 2022.

The contents of Baroness Brinton’s regret motion are set out below. If agreed to, the motion would put on record that the House of Lords had reservations about the regulations. However, it would not stop the instrument from remaining law if the House agrees the Government’s approval motion.

What does the instrument do?

The statutory instrument revokes two aspects of restrictions introduced during the coronavirus pandemic:

  • the requirement to self-isolate in certain circumstances, and associated measures; and
  • the power for local authorities to impose prohibitions, requirements or restrictions on individual premises, events, or public outdoor places.


In September 2020, the Government introduced regulations that made it an offence not to self-isolate if instructed to do so by certain local authority or health officials. The requirement to self-isolate applied to those who tested positive for coronavirus or who had been in close contact with someone else who had tested positive. The regulations also required those who had tested positive to provide their household contacts to NHS Test and Trace and to notify their employer.

A fuller description of the original measures, together with the reasons they were introduced and the scrutiny the regulations received, can be found in the House of Lords Library’s briefing for the Lords debate that took place on 14 October 2020.

The self-isolation regulations were amended on various occasions as the pandemic progressed. Examples included to shorten the period of self-isolation and so that close contacts of those testing positive who have themselves been vaccinated did not ordinarily need to isolate. The expiry date of the instrument was also extended. Prior to revocation, it would have expired on 24 March 2022.

Restrictions on gatherings

In July 2020, the Government introduced regulations providing local authorities with certain powers to counter the threat of coronavirus. At the time, the Government said the regulations reflected a change in its policy from “blanket, national” measures to “targeted, local” ones. Powers included:

  • closing, or limiting access to, specified premises;
  • prohibiting, or imposing restrictions or requirements on, specified events in the area;
  • closing, or restricting access to, public spaces;
  • for the secretary of state to require a local authority to use its powers in the above ways, or to instruct a local authority to stop using its powers in these ways.

Again, the regulations have been amended during the pandemic, for example to remove the ability for a police community support officer to use ‘reasonable force’ in enforcing the regulations. Their expiry has also been extended. They, too, would have expired on 24 March 2022 had they not been revoked.

Why has the Government revoked the restrictions?

Strategy for living with Covid-19

Revoking these restrictions forms part of a wider strategy for living with Covid-19 in the UK, published on 23 February 2022. The Government said the strategy’s overall aim was to manage the virus “like other respiratory illnesses”, while minimising mortality and retaining the ability to respond with stronger measures if the NHS was threatened with “unsustainable pressure”. The Government set out four principles underlying its approach:

  • removing domestic restrictions while encouraging safer behaviours through public health advice, in common with longstanding ways of managing most other respiratory illnesses;
  • protecting the people most vulnerable to Covid-19, for example through vaccination and targeted testing;
  • ongoing surveillance, contingency planning and the ability to reintroduce key capabilities such as mass vaccination and testing in an emergency; and
  • securing innovations and opportunities from the Covid-19 response, including investment in life sciences.

The Government said the strategy was based on four scenarios modelled by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). These all predicted that a “more stable” position will be reached over “several years”. However, the Government warned that the transition to such an “endemic” state will be “highly dynamic and affected by the international situation”.

Revoking restrictions

In revoking the restrictions, the Government argued that the success of its vaccination programme meant that the measures were no longer proportionate to the remaining threat from coronavirus. It provided data that, it said, showed that deaths and hospitalisations were “significantly lower” than at the peaks of the pandemic.

The Government said that the legal requirements around self-isolation would be replaced by guidance. For example, until 1 April 2022, those testing positive would be advised to stay at home and avoid contacts with others for at least five days. The Prime Minister said that thereafter, people with Covid-19 symptoms will be expected to “exercise personal responsibility, just as we encourage people who may have flu to be considerate to others”.

In revoking the local authority powers, the Government reported that only one direction had been issued through them since July 2021. Further, it stated there were powers in the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 that pre-dated the pandemic and would continue to be available. For example, under the 1984 act, local authorities can apply for an order that persons must wear face coverings, be restricted in where they go or abstain from working or trading.

Other measures in the Living with Covid strategy

Alongside the measures in the regulations, other parts of the Living with Covid plan include:

  • Self-isolation support payments ceased from 24 February 2022, along with national funding for practical support and the medicine delivery service. The self-isolation support payment was a grant of £500 to those on low incomes who had to self-isolate and would otherwise lose income.
  • From 24 March 2022, the Covid-19 provisions in the statutory sick pay (SSP) and employment and support allowance regulations will be removed. For example, people can currently claim SSP from the first day they were off work due to coronavirus, rather than the fourth day for other causes.
  • From 1 April 2022, free lateral flow tests (LFTs) will no longer be generally available for the public in England. The Government said free tests would remain for those with symptoms if they were adult social care staff or in “a small number of at-risk groups”.
  • Removing the guidance that staff and students in most education and childcare settings should undertake twice-weekly asymptomatic testing.
  • A number of measures to support those deemed to be most vulnerable to the virus. These include further booster vaccinations for those aged 75 and over, older care home residents and those over 12 who are immunosuppressed. The Government also said it would deploy antiviral medications for the highest risk patients who test positive for coronavirus.

Regret motion

Baroness Brinton’s motion expresses regret that the regulations are:

  1. contrary to guidance provided by the UK Health Security Agency and NHS England on what action to take when you test positive for coronavirus;
  2. an example of public health messaging that has caused confusion amongst the public; and
  3. financially exclusionary to those on low incomes who cannot afford either the costs of tests or to isolate without financial support.

Guidance from UK Health Security Agency and NHS England

In the Commons debate on the Living with Covid-19 strategy, the Prime Minister said that ministers consulted “a wide range of scientific opinion, including the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and, clearly, the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer” in reaching the decision to revoke the self-isolation regulations.

The UK Health Security Agency reminded the public that “staying at home and avoiding contact with others is still the most effective way to avoid passing on Covid-19 if you are infected”. NHS England states that those testing positive “should still stay at home and avoid contact with other people”.

Other health professionals have argued that the decision to end self-isolation is misjudged. For example, the NHS Confederation carried out a poll of 300 senior leaders in the NHS in England. It found that three-quarters of respondents also disagreed with changing the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive result to being advisory only. On 1 March 2022, Caroline Lucas (Green Party MP for Brighton, Pavilion) reported that health experts at an all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus had been “unanimous in saying that to remove the restrictions around self-isolation right now is premature”. In particular, she said the experts were concerned about those who were clinically vulnerable. She called for keeping the requirement to self-isolate as “one of the most basic measures we have to protect other people”.

Possible confusion in public health messaging

In the House of Lords debate on the Living with Covid-19 strategy, the Leader of the Opposition, Baroness Smith of Basildon, set out why she thought some people might be confused by the changes. She referred to “on the one hand, guidance telling them to self-isolate if positive, and, on the other hand, pressures—either financial or from an employer—forcing them to work”. She suggested that the message people will take from the strategy was that “Covid-19 is no longer a threat”. She said “that is going to lead many to conclude—wrongly, as even the Prime Minister has admitted—that the pandemic is now over”. Responding, Baroness Evans of Bowes Park said the Government would “continue to run public health campaigns such as we have seen in the past to encourage people to think about their behaviour”.

The British Medical Association (BMA) argued that asking individuals to take greater responsibility for their actions, while taking away free testing, is likely to cause “more uncertainty and anxiety”.

Financial exclusion

The Prime Minister said that the testing, tracing and isolation support measures cost £15.7 billion in 2021/22 and argued that “we must scale this back”. Baroness Evans of Bowes Park added that the market for private tests would be “properly regulated”, including price monitoring.

However, in the Commons debate on the Living with Covid-19 plan, the Leader of the Opposition, Keir Starmer, said that removing self-isolation support payments and weakening statutory sick pay would affect the lowest-paid and most insecure workers the most. Similarly, the BMA suggested these changes, and the end of universal free testing, would create a “two-tier system”. It predicted a split between those who could afford to test and self-isolate and others who will be “forced to gamble on the health of themselves and others”.

The NHS Confederation reported that in its poll of senior NHS leaders, nearly 80% wanted free testing for the general public to remain.
Parliamentary scrutiny

The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee noted the measure as an instrument of interest in a report of 3 March 2022. It summarised the effect of the policy changes and the reasons why the Government believed they were appropriate.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments considered the instrument and did not raise any concerns.

The House of Commons held a brief debate on the instrument on 1 March 2022. It approved the regulations without a division.

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Cover image by Daniel Monteiro on Unsplash.