Living with Covid plan: key points from UK PM Boris Johnson’s announcement and changes to self isolation rules
The Prime Minister has detailed the ‘Living with Covid’ plan in the House of Commons
The Prime Minister made the announcement after it was revealed that the legal requirement to self-isolate was expected to be scrapped in England.
Mr Johnson has made the move to remove all domestic restrictions in England as he updated MPs in the House of Commons on the details of the ‘Living with Covid’ plan, which includes the scrapping of Covid restrictions.
He stated that the country was over the “peak” of the Omicron wave which gripped the country from November 2021 until January 2022.
What are the new rules on self-isolation?
Mr Johnson confirmed that the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive Covid test will be removed from Thursday 24 February.
As a result of people in England not being legally required to self-isolate, the self-isolation support payments will also be removed as well as the contact tracing programme.
He said: “From this Thursday February 24, we will end the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test and so we will also end self-isolation support payments, although Covid provisions for statutory sick pay can still be claimed for a further month.
“We will end routine contact tracing and no longer ask fully vaccinated close contacts and those under 18 to test daily for seven days.”
The government will issue advice only to self-isolate from 24 February until 1 April, with Mr Johnson adding: “It’s only because levels of immunity are so high and deaths are now if anything below where you would normally expect for this time of year that we can lift these restrictions and it’s only because we know Omicron is less severe that testing for Omicron on the colossal scale we’ve been doing is much less important and much less valuable in preventing serious illness.”
Professor Chris Whitty did advise that despite the legal requirement being removed, those who test positive for the virus should stay at home.
He said: “As we look at the next weeks, we still have high rates of Omicron and I would urge people in terms of public health advice, and this is very much the Government’s position, that people should still if they have Covid try to prevent other people getting it and that means self-isolating.
“So, that is the public health advice.
“It would have been the public health advice, and will be the public health advice, for multiple other diseases.
“If you had Norovirus we would give exactly the same public health advice.
“So this is standard public health advice for a significant and highly transmissible infection.”
What did Boris Johnson say about Covid testing?
The Prime Minister also confirmed that free testing will end in England on 1 April, telling MPs that “we must noe scale back.
He said: “From today [Monday 21 February] we’re removing the guidance for staff and students in most education and childcare settings to undertake twice weekly asymptomatic testing and from April 1 when winter is over and the virus will spread less easily, we will end free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public.
“We will continue to provide free symptomatic tests to the oldest age groups and those most vulnerable to Covid and in line with the practice in many other countries, we’re working with retailers to ensure that everyone who wants to can buy a test.”
What did Boris Johnson say about a fourth vaccine dose?
The Prime Minister expanded on the issue of a fourth spring dose of a Covid vaccine for select groups of at-risk people.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed earlier today that those over 75, older people and care homes and those over the age of 12 who are immunosuppressed will be offered the additional jab to help top-up their protection against coronavirus.
Mr Johnson said: “Today we’re taking further action to guard against a possible resurgence of the virus, accepting JCVI advice for a new spring booster offered to those aged 75 and older, to older care home residents and to those over 12 who are immunosuppressed.”
What has been the reaction to the announcement?
The plans to scrap self-isolation rules and free testing has been met with hesitancy by the opposition.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described it as “a half-baked announcement from a Government paralysed by chaos and incompetence”.
He added: “Free tests can’t continue forever, but if you’re 2-1 up with 10 minutes to go you don’t sub off one of your best defenders.”
“All we’ve got today is yet more chaos and disarray. Not enough to prepare us for the new variants which may yet develop. An approach which seems to think that living with Covid means simply ignoring it.
“This morning he couldn’t even persuade his own Health Secretary to agree the plan. So what confidence can the public have that this is the right approach?”
A ministerial meeting earlier in the day was delayed after apparent in-fighting over the Living with Covid plan.
Mr Johnson responded by saying: “The evidence for what we are doing today is amply there in the scientific evidence, in the figures for the rates of infection that I have outlined today and in all the data that is freely available to members of the House. They can see what’s happening with infection rates, with mortality, with what Omicron is doing across the country.”
How does the announcement affect Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
While the announcement will only apply in England, the devolved nations noted their concern over removal of key points such as free testing.
SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford highlighted the issue of finance when it comes to the devolved nations continuing to offer free testing.
He said: “It appears these dangerous choices are purely political and are being made up on the hoof, it is another symptom of a Government in turmoil. The illogical reality of UK finance means that these decisions made for England by a failing Prime Minister affect the money the devolved nations have to provide testing.”
Previously, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “The reality of UK finance flows means this decision determines the money devolved administrations (paid for by taxpayers in Sc, Wales & NI) have for testing.”
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