UK's Boris Johnson outlines 'living with Covid' plan for return to normality

People in England with a recent positive test may no longer be legally required to isolate under new rules

People with the coronavirus in England will not be legally required to enter isolation, starting this week. AP
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said his “living with Covid” plan will bring the country “towards a return to normality” as he intends to scrap the requirement to self-isolate in England after a positive Covid-19 test.

Mr Johnson was due to meet his Cabinet on Monday morning to discuss the plan before updating MPs in the House of Commons on his blueprint for moving out of the pandemic.

He said the proposal would be about “finally giving people back their freedom” after “one of the most difficult periods in our country’s history”.

Mr Johnson is expected to set out a timetable for reducing the availability of free coronavirus tests, although older and vulnerable people will continue to have access to them.

Business Minister Paul Scully suggested the government could stop providing free coronavirus tests, as the £2 billion a month could be better used elsewhere.

Mr Scully told Sky News “we can’t continue for evermore spending £2bn a month on tests”.

“If you think what that £2bn might go towards, there’s a lot of other backlogs in the NHS, other illnesses in the NHS, that that money could otherwise go for,” he said.

“So for every person that is worried about a test, there may be another person that’s worried about a cancer diagnosis, for instance.”

Devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland control their own coronavirus policies.

Under Mr Johnson's new Covid plan, the rule which legally requires a person to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus could be done away with by the end of the week.

Asked about a possible lifting of the rule, Mr Scully said it would be down to employers and employees to make decisions over self-isolating.

“I would say that it’s like any illness, frankly, any transmissible illness that you would say stay at home,” he said.

He said if an employee had flu, they would be expected to stay at home, “but it’ll be down to themselves or down to their employer”.

Mr Scully said the public should not “work and live under government diktat for a moment longer than is necessary”, and that a change in rules is important to open the door to an economic recovery and to “allow people to get back to a sense of normality, whilst keeping people safe, clearly”.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said whenever restrictions are eased it is “critical” to have a surveillance system in place to monitor emerging variants.

Asked about the continuing role vaccines are likely to have in the UK’s battle against the virus, he cast doubt on the need for a fourth dose for the majority of the population.

Prof Pollard suggested an extra booster may be offered to vulnerable and elderly people who are most at risk of severe illness from Covid.

“As far as whether we need [vaccines] for the whole population, I don’t think that’s likely to be the future for the whole population to get regular doses,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“But we are identifying those in society who are particularly vulnerable to the virus and it’s certainly reasonable to think that further doses may be needed to maintain immunity in those who are at greatest risk of ending up in hospital.”

The UK was one of the worst-hit European nations during the first wave of coronavirus in the spring of 2020 and the number of people having Covid-19 on their death certificates has risen to more than 183,000, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

On Sunday, Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II had tested positive for Covid. The monarch is experiencing mild symptoms and will continue to do light work.

Downing Street said the vaccination programme had left England in a “strong position to consider lifting the remaining legal restrictions”, with more than 81 per cent of adults having received a booster dose, and cases continuing to fall.

“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,” Mr Johnson said before his announcement on Monday.

“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.”

Mr Johnson said that Britain was in a “different world” after coming out of the Omicron variant wave, with the number of patients in intensive care “way down”.

The latest UK government data shows that as of Sunday there were 11,555 people are in hospital with Covid, 331 of whom were on ventilators.

Mr Johnson said the latest data meant it was time for the UK to shift the balance away from “state mandation” and towards “personal responsibility”.

In comments made in Munich on Saturday, he said it was “important that people should feel confident again” and that he wanted to “see our country really getting back on its feet” after the pandemic.

But Mr Johnson refused to rule out more lockdowns should future mutations not prove to be as mild as predicted, saying he would have to be “humble in the face of nature”.

He and about 50 officials are under police investigation after claims that lockdown-breaking parties were held in Number 10 Downing Street.

After his statement to the House of Commons, the Conservative Party leader is expected to give a public briefing in the evening.

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 shot.

But the Mail on Sunday reported that passenger locator forms were likely to continue to be required for travellers until the spring.

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.

Updated: February 21, 2022, 10:16 AM