Boris Johnson announces plan to end all domestic Covid restrictions this month

Legal requirement to self-isolate expected to be scrapped

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 09 February 2022 14:29
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Boris Johnson announces plan to end all Covid restrictions this month

Boris Johnson has announced the government wants to end all domestic Covid-19 restrictions in England, including the legal requirement to self-isolate, a month earlier than planned.

The prime minister told MPs: “Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions - including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive - a full month early.”

He said he would present the government’s “Living With Covid” strategy when the Commons returns from its recess on 21 February. Aides said remaining restrictions are expected to be lifted by February 24 at the latest.

The move will make England the first major nation to stand down all of its domestic coronavirus rules, as Downing Street said that the country was “entering the stage of endemicity” of the disease, thanks to a successful vaccine and booster programme.

Mr Johnson’s remarks, however, came as Office for National Statistics figures showed Covid-19 infection levels have risen in most parts of the UK, with only Wales showing a clear week-on-week figures.

In England around one in 19 people in private households were estimated to have had the virus in the week to February 5, or 2.8 million people - up from one in 20, or 2.6 million people, in the week to January 29, though the ONS described the trend as “uncertain”.

As well as ending the legal requirement to isolate, legal powers for councils to shut down premises linked to outbreaks will be removed. But no changes are expected to international travel restrictions, and the supply of testing kits free of charge will continue, said Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson.

Guidance will remain in place to stay home after a positive Covid test - as with any infectious disease - but it will not be legally enforceable. No 10 declined to say whether the £500 support payment for those isolating will be withdrawn.

“It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with Covid,” the prime minister said.

Under the current Covid rules, individuals who test positive for the virus are ordered to self-isolate for at least five days and can face considerable fines for non-compliance.

Regulations mandating people to wear face masks in certain settings and guidance to work from home to contain the spread of the virus, however, ended in January.

Mr Johnson’s spokesperson told reporters that the publication of the plan will be dependent on last-minute approval by cabinet.

“This would mean us moving faster than other large European countries and it’s right we do it at the right time,” he said. “The success of our vaccination programme means that we are able to move faster.

“But we’ve always moved with an element of caution, as is right when there is still a global pandemic.”

Devolved nations will make their own decisions on whether to move at the same time as England, and cities like London which still require face-coverings on public transport will be permitted to continue to do so.

Last month, Mr Johnson told the Commons that the government would replace legal requirements with advice and guidance, saying he expected “not to renew” the self-isolation rules after they expire on March 24.

The move to bring forward the date by a month will inevitably be viewed as an attempt to bolster his support among Conservative MPs, and was immediately welcomed by the former Brexit secretary Lord David Frost.

“The PM’s plan to end all Covid restrictions a month early is the right thing do & is extremely welcome. I hope the government will also make clear we will not go down the road of coercive lockdowns ever again”.

But Lobby Akinnola, spokesperson for Covid-19 bereaved families for justice campaign group, said: “Whilst the Prime Minister is bragging about lifting restrictions a month early, we’re struggling to keep up with the number of hearts that need to be drawn on the Covid Memorial Wall.

“314 people have died in the last 24 hours from Covid-19, and there are nearly 2000 people dying each week.

“The prime minister might wish that this disease was no more dangerous than the flu, but the reality is that he is throwing the most vulnerable in our society to the wolves.”

According to the latest daily figures, 66,183 cases of Covid-19 were reported in the UK on Tuesday. A further 314 people died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus — bringing the total government’s official figure to 158,677.

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