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Boris Johnson announces plan for living with Covid-19 with self-isolation rules scrapped

The Prime Minister has this afternoon announced his "living with Covid" plan to bring the country back "towards normality".

The requirement to self-isolate in England will be scrapped, which he says will finally give people back their freedom.

Boris Johnson announces plan for living with Covid-19 Picture: PA
Boris Johnson announces plan for living with Covid-19 Picture: PA

The UK was one of the worst hit European nations during the first wave of coronavirus in spring 2020.

The number of people having Covid-19 recorded on their death certificate has now risen to more than 183,000 according to the Office for National Statistics.

Addressing the Commons just after 4.30pm Boris Johnson said: "Covid will not just disappear so those who would wait for it to end before lifting restrictions would be waiting a very long time.

"It is time we got our confidence back... We can rely on a sense of responsibility towards one another... Let us learn to live with this virus."

He announced an end to mandatory self-isolation from Thursday and said free testing would be scrapped from April 1, with the requirement for school staff and students to test twice a week also lifted.

Self-isolation support payments will also be axed.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer compared the plan to "subbing your best defender off" when there is 10 minutes left and you're 2-1 up.

He said it was “not a plan to live well” with Covid and will leave the nation “vulnerable”.

“As a nation there is no doubt we need to move on from Covid.

“People need to know their liberties are returning and returning for good,” Sir Keir said.

“But this is a half-baked announcement from a government paralysed by chaos and incompetence. It is not a plan to live well with Covid.”

'It is time we got our confidence back...'

Under the plan, which is subject to parliamentary approval, those who receive a positive Covid-19 test will still be advised to stay at home for at least five days, but will not be obliged to under law.

Routine contact tracing will also end on Thursday, as will the £500 self-isolation payments and the legal obligation for individuals to tell their employers about their requirement to isolate.

Changes to statutory sick pay and employment support allowance designed to help people through the coronavirus pandemic will end on March 24.

People aged 75 and over, the immunosuppressed and those living in care homes will be offered another Covid-19 booster vaccine this spring.

But free universal testing will be massively scaled back from April 1 and will instead be focused on the most vulnerable, with the UK Health Security Agency set to determine the details, while asymptomatic testing will continue for social care staff.

But the Department of Health and Social Care will receive no extra money to deliver the testing.

Mr Johnson warned the “pandemic is not over”, with the Queen’s positive test a “reminder this virus has not gone away”.

But he told MPs there is “sufficient levels of immunity to complete the transition” from laws to relying on vaccines and treatments and individuals making the right choices.

The government expects a market for lateral flow devices to develop once boxes are no longer available free on the NHS, with individual tests expected to cost a few pounds.

To prevent people stockpiling them before April 1, individuals will only be able to order a box of tests on the NHS every three days instead of every 24 hours.

One of the factors that influenced the decision was data indicating that the Omicron wave had not resulted in any excess deaths, an indication of the protection offered by the vaccines.

Groups representing vulnerable individuals sounded the alarm over the end to isolation laws, with the Scope charity saying it would usher in a life “living with fear”.

Ahead of the announcement, devolved leaders condemned any move to scale back the testing regime that cost nearly £16 billion this financial year.

Mr Johnson is scheduled to hold a press conference alongside England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance at 7pm.

The government's plan did not go as smoothly as hoped and hit a last-minute snag with a Cabinet bust-up over key details.

Minsters were expected to sign off the living with Covid strategy this morning.

But in chaotic scenes, the Cabinet meeting was postponed – after some of the ministers due to attend it had already arrived in No 10.

The delay was understood to centre on Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s demands over the maintenance of a testing regime and questions over how elements would be funded.

Mr Johnson hopes the plan, which from Thursday will end the legal requirement for people with Covid-19 to self-isolate, will shore up support from Tory backbenchers who have been critical of coronavirus restrictions.

But the public signs of Cabinet wrangling could be an indication that his authority has been damaged while he faces an ongoing row over the partygate scandal.

The plan had been in the pipeline for weeks and Mr Johnson had signalled his intention to end the legal requirement to self-isolate before the Commons recess, so the last-minute wrangling came as a surprise to many in Westminster.

Mr Johnson's announcement comes just over 24 hours after it was confirmed the Queen had tested positive for coronavirus.

The Mail on Sunday reported although free tests will be scrapped older and vulnerable people will continue to have access to them.

Mr Johnson told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme the UK spent £2 billion on testing in January alone and that such high expenditure did not need to continue.

At this point in the vaccination programme, 81% of adults have now received a booster dose.

This alongside falling Covid cases has led Downing Street to say the vaccination programme has left England in a “strong position".

But businesses fear that plans to scrap free Covid testing could "pull the rug" from under their feet.

Jo James, chief executive of the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce - which represents firms across the county - says it is "too soon" to ditch the free test kits and says no reputable business will allow staff members with Covid to come into work.

The requirement to self-isolate after a positive coronavirus test will be scrapped by the end of the week in England (Yui Mok/PA)
The requirement to self-isolate after a positive coronavirus test will be scrapped by the end of the week in England (Yui Mok/PA)

She explained: "I cannot see employers allowing people into the workplace if they have Covid.

"They have a duty of care to all of their staff and need to ensure they look after their wellbeing.

"It would not make sense to have someone in, however mild their symptoms. For others they may not be so mild. You wouldn't expose your staff to that risk.

"If one of your staff had flu, would you allow them into the workplace to potentially infect everybody else? Of course you wouldn't - I would not expect anyone to come into the workplace if they had Covid."

She added: "It's too soon to scrap them. People need to test.

"We're trying to open the economy up and get people back into workplaces, back into meetings and events, but the fact you know people are testing gives you reassurance. You take that away and people may not be quite so confident about moving forward at a quicker pace.

"The government is always looking at business confidence, but you can't pull the rug from under them at the moment - it's the one thing they need."

She said the cost of bulk buying Covid tests would be just the latest strain for firms already struggling due to increased energy prices and wage demands.

But she added: "I think employers will look to do it because at the end of the day they can't afford to have all of their workforce off."

In addition, nurseries and childminders will no longer have to report Covid-19 cases or outbreaks to Ofsted.

The Department for Education says it has decided to end the requirement for childcare providers to tell inspectors about confirmed virus cases in their settings from today.

Boris Johnson says the success of the vaccines is a big reason behind the move to "freedom"
Boris Johnson says the success of the vaccines is a big reason behind the move to "freedom"

Until now childcare businesses have had to officially report coronavirus cases whether they were among staff or children in their care.

If a nursery or childminder was being forced to close as a result of any outbreak or staff shortages - Ofsted had also requested that they be notified about any changes in opening arrangements.

In reporting cases, staff were required to tell Ofsted about important dates relating to the outbreak and case numbers, who was present when Covid-19 cases were first suspected and then confirmed as positive and the number of children mixing at the same time as a positive case and the number of staff working.

The DfE says there will no longer be a requirement for childcare providers to submit notifications for any cases from today or for those that may have come to light in the last 14 days.

It will remain a legal requirement under the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework to report cases of serious illness in a setting and more details about that can be found here.

Shoppers in Maidstone have mixed opinions about the change

Two business owners in Maidstone told reporters it's "perfect that people can come out without masks or anything like that".

But another shopper said: "I think you still have to be very careful when going into crowded shops, trains, buses and things like that, but there's got to come a point when we need to start relaxing a little bit."

A mum said the change in rules "will be great for everyone's mental wellbeing" which "seems to have been forgotten about".

Speaking before his announcement today, the Prime Minister said: “Today will mark a moment of pride after one of the most difficult periods in our country’s history as we begin to learn to live with Covid.

"It would not be possible without the efforts of so many – the NHS who delivered the life-saving vaccine rollout at phenomenal speed, our world-leading scientists and experts, and the general public for their commitment to protecting themselves and their loved ones.

“The pandemic is not over but thanks to the incredible vaccine rollout we are now one step closer towards a return to normality and finally giving people back their freedoms while continuing to protect ourselves and others.”

Health experts have been critical of the decision to abandon the requirement to quarantine after a positive result.

Chair of the Council of the British Medical Association Dr Chaand Nagpaul called it an “odd decision to make” when there are “more people dying and more people in hospital” than before Plan B measures were introduced last year in response to the pre-Christmas rising tide of Omicron cases.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of Sage’s modelling subgroup, told Times Radio there was a “real concern” that getting rid of the rules would lead to more infections in workplaces.

As of yesterday, data shows that 11,555 people are currently in hospital with the illness, with 331 of those on ventilators.

Cases are falling in every region across Kent with 597.8 weekly cases per 100,000.

Mr Johnson said the latest data shows it is time to shift the balance away from “state mandation” and towards “personal responsibility”.

Downing Street said the plan for living with Covid-19 would be “vaccine led”, with the programme remaining open to those who have not yet had a jab.

Plan B measures designed to slow the spread of Omicron, such as the requirement to wear masks in public places and the use of Covid passes for large events, were abolished in England last month.

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