As new figures showed the number of cases dropping across the UK, the prime minister said scientists believed that the Omicron wave had peaked, and that plan B measures in England would soon be lifted. The devolved administrations have laid out similar plans.
Mr Johnson said although “significant pressures” would remain on the NHS, hospital admissions had stabilised and were even falling in London.
The prime minister pointed to comments made earlier this week by Dr David Nabarro, a special envoy of the World Health Organisation, that the UK could see light at the end of the tunnel.
The latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that cases had fallen in England, Scotland and Wales while the trend in Northern Ireland was “uncertain”.
What has been announced?
The prime minister said the face covering mandate in England will end next week.
People will not be required to wear face masks in any setting from Thursday 27 January, when Plan B restrictions are set to lapse.
Masks will no longer need to be worn in classrooms from Thursday 20 January, and rules will be lifted for school communal areas later.
Mr Johnson said the government will continue to suggest the use of face coverings in enclosed or crowded spaces, “particularly when you come into contact with people you don't normally meet”.
He added: “But we will trust the judgment of the British people and no longer criminalise anyone who chooses not to wear one.”
Downing Street said the government had not been advised by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) to end the face mask mandate but there had been “no objection to the approach” from members.
What other changes have been announced?
All Plan B measures brought in to tackle the rise of Omicron in December will come to an end next week and self isolation rules could soon follow.
People are no longer being told to work from home, in an immediate change to rules.
From Thursday next week, Covid passes will no longer be mandatory in nightclubs and large venues.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, will set out plans to futher eases restrcitions on care home visits “in the coming days”, the prime minister said.
The legal requirement for people with Covid to self-isolate will be allowed to end when the regulations expire on 24 March but that date could be brought forward.
The current date of expiry is almost two years to the day from when Covid restrictions were first introduced as the virus took hold of Britain in March 2020.
Mr Johnson signalled his intention to start treating Covid more like flu, saying: “There will soon come a time when we can remove the legal requirement to self-isolate altogether, just as we don't place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu.
“As Covid becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance, urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others.”
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