The government has announced the end of Plan B restrictions in England as data shows Omicron is in “retreat”.
Boris Johnson revealed that the country would “return to Plan A” after a tense Prime Minister’s Questions, which included calls from both sides of the House for him to resign.
“You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist” to find the timing of his Covid update “rather suspicious”, said Isabel Hardman in The Spectator.
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But today Health Secretary Sajid Javid refuted claims that the announcement was about “saving the skin” of his party leader. He told BBC Breakfast it was the government’s scientific advisers who believed that the Omicron wave had peaked.
The cabinet minister said he was “certain” it was time to lift the restrictions, calling it an “important milestone” and a “new chapter” in the fight against Covid-19. Here is what the government announced.
Working from home
With immediate effect, the government is no longer advising people to work from home. Commuters in England were “heading back into city offices” this morning after Johnson “dramatically scrapped” the Plan B Covid curbs yesterday, reported the Daily Mail.
From Thursday 27 January, mandatory vaccine and test certificates will end, although organisations will be able to voluntarily require customers to show the NHS Covid Pass.
On the same day, face masks will no longer be a legal requirement. However, in a press conference yesterday, Javid said “we suggest that they are worn in enclosed, crowded places, especially where you come into contact with people who you don’t normally meet”. The lifting of face-mask rules comes earlier for classrooms, starting today.
The government is also looking to replace the legal requirements on self-isolation with guidance, said Javid. Johnson told the Commons: “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.” The prime minister said he “very much” expects not to renew the self-isolation regulations when they expire on 24 March and added that, “were the data to allow”, he would like to bring that date forward with the permission of the Commons.
Plans to ease restrictions on care home visits are due to be announced in the coming days.
A further long-term strategy
The government is due to reveal its “long-term plan for living with Covid-19” before the end of March. Johnson said this will explain “how we hope and intend to protect our liberty and avoid restrictions in future by relying instead on medical advances – especially the vaccines which have already saved so many lives”.
According to The Times, it will include a scaling back of mass testing in favour of “using vaccination, preventive drugs and targeted testing to deal with upsurges and new variants”.
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