People with COVID-19 in Britain will no longer be legally required to self-isolate from next week, the government has announced, as part of a “living with COVID” plan that is also likely to reduce testing.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said ending all legal restrictions introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus would allow people in Britain to “protect ourselves without restricting our freedoms”.
“I’m not saying we abandon all precautions, but this is the time for everyone to regain their confidence.Johnson told the BBC in an interview on Sunday.
“We have reached a stage where we believe a balance can be struck outside of state orders, of banning certain activities, imposing certain activities, in favor of encouraging personal responsibility.”.
However, some government scientific advisers said it was a risky move that could spark a spike in infections and weaken the country’s defenses against future, more virulent variants.
Wes Streeting, a health spokesman for the main opposition group, the Labor Party, accused Johnson on Sunday of “declaring victory before the war is over.”
Johnson’s Conservative government in January lifted most of the virus restrictions in England, such as vaccination passports to enter venues and mandatory masks in almost all places except hospitals. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which draw their own health policies, have also lifted measures, although more slowly.
A combination of a high vaccination rate in Britain and the fact that the omicron variant causes less severe disease means that lifting measures will not lead to a spike in hospitalizations and deaths. Both are falling, although Britain still has the highest death toll in Europe after Russia, with more than 160,000 recorded deaths.
In Britain, 85% of people aged 12 and over have received two doses of vaccines and nearly two-thirds have received a booster dose.
The Conservative government now indicates that it will eliminate “all remaining national COVID regulations restricting public liberties” within a “transition from government intervention to personal responsibility”.
The legal obligation to self-isolate for at least five days after testing positive for COVID-19 will be replaced by recommendations and the coronavirus will be treated more like the flu as it becomes endemic.
The new plan provides for vaccines and treatments to keep the virus at bay, although the government said that “surveillance and contingency systems will be maintained” if necessary.
“COVID will not suddenly go away and we have to learn to live with this virus and continue to protect ourselves without restricting our freedomssaid Johnson, who was expected to announce details of the plan on Monday in Parliament.
The announcement will be welcomed by many Conservative Party lawmakers, who viewed the restrictions as ineffective and disproportionate. It could also bolster support for Johnson among his fellow party members, who were considering an attempt to impeach him over scandals that included parties breaking quarantine during the pandemic.
But the scientists stress that much is still unknown about the virus and that future variants could be more serious than the omicron variant now dominant.
The New and Emerging Virus Threats Advisory Group, which advises the government, said last week that the idea of viruses getting milder “it’s a common mistake”. The milder omicron-associated illness “is probably a chance event” and future variants could be more severe or prevent current vaccines.
Epidemic modeling experts advising the government also warned that “a sudden change, such as ending testing and isolation, has the scope to return to serious epidemic growth” if people abandon precautions.
Scientists also warned against withdrawing free rapid coronavirus tests, of which millions have been distributed during the pandemic. Health authorities say mass testing has played an important role in slowing the spread of the virus.
Scientists are also concerned that the government could end the Office for National Statistics Survey of Infections, considered invaluable because it screens people whether they have symptoms or not.
“This is not the time to take chancessaid Matthew Taylor, director general of the NHS Confederation, which groups state health agencies in Britain. “We have to act gradually and based on the evidence”
Ricardo is a renowned author and journalist, known for his exceptional writing on top-news stories. He currently works as a writer at the 247 News Agency, where he is known for his ability to deliver breaking news and insightful analysis on the most pressing issues of the day.