The legal duty to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus will end next week, the UK is expected to announce, as part of its “living with Covid” plan.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC on Sunday that while Covid-19 remained dangerous for some people, particularly the vulnerable and unvaccinated, “now is the moment for everybody to get their confidence back".
Downing Street last week said that Mr Johnson intends to repeal all pandemic regulations that restrict public freedom in England when he lays out his vision for the future on Monday.
Speaking of a "vaccine-led approach", the prime minister said he did not want restriction rules to return but warned people that, “you've got to be humble in the face of nature".
Mr Johnson is expected to tell MPs upon their return from Parliament’s February break that the vaccine programme, testing and new treatments can be relied upon to keep the public safe.
Currently, positive or symptomatic people must isolate for up to 10 days and while these rules were due to expire on 24 March, recent remarks from Downing Street suggest England’s remaining measure may end early.
Some MPs, scientists and charities have raised concerns over the early lifting of restrictions and potential scrapping of free lateral flow tests while Covid-19 infections remain high, currently at about three million across the UK.
It is unclear how the UK will continue to monitor infection rates without the free availability and requirement to test, but the prime minister said he wanted to “make sure we have the capability to spot stuff and to snap back up as fast as we need to". It was not necessary to keep spending £2bn a month on testing, as was happening in January, he said.
Ministers have said new variants of the virus are expected to follow a pattern similar to Omicron in being more mild than earlier Covid-19 mutations.
Before outlining his plan, the prime minister said: “Covid will not suddenly disappear and we need to learn to live with this virus and continue to protect ourselves without restricting our freedom.
“We’ve built up strong protections against this virus over the past two years through the vaccine rollouts, tests, new treatments and the best scientific understanding of what this virus can do.
“Thanks to our successful vaccination programme and the sheer magnitude of people who have come forward to be jabbed, we are now in a position to set out our plan for living with Covid this week.”
By the end of the week, self-isolation regulations will be scrapped for those who test positive and their close contacts, officials said.
Local authorities will be required to manage outbreaks with existing public health powers, as they would with other diseases.
No 10 Downing Street said pharmaceutical intervention would “continue to be our first line of defence”, with the vaccine programme remaining “open to anyone who has not yet come forward”.
With 85 per cent of the UK’s population having received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and 38 million booster shots administered, the prime minister's office said it had concluded “government intervention in people’s lives can now finally end”.
But the government appeared to keep the door open to state-funded infection sampling remaining in place, after reports that Covid-19 studies could be withdrawn as part of the plan.
Officials said Monday’s living with Covid plan, as well as removing quarantine impositions, would maintain “resilience against future variants with ongoing surveillance capabilities”.
Senior statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter said some form of the Office for National Statistics’ coronavirus study should remain in place.
The University of Cambridge professor, who is a non-executive director for the ONS and chairman of the advisory board for the Covid Infection Survey, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that results had been vital for monitoring people’s behaviour.
“It has been absolutely so important as we have gone along,” he said.
“It has been running since April 2020, and so ... I think lots of people are saying how important it is, particularly the statistical community.”