England to end Covid isolation rules on Thursday

Boris Johnson says pandemic is not over and warns of resurgences

People in England who test positive for the coronavirus will no longer be legally required to isolate themselves as of Thursday, and free universal testing will end in April under UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan for “living with Covid".

Mr Johnson detailed the strategy for England to the House of Commons late on Monday afternoon.

“We will remove all remaining domestic restrictions,” he said.

After the changes begin, people should “exercise personal responsibility” in the same way they do when ill with the flu or other illnesses, Mr Johnson said.

“Because of the efforts we have made as a country over the past two years, we can now deal with it in a very different way, moving from government restrictions to personal responsibility, so we protect ourselves without losing our abilities and maintaining our contingent capabilities so we can respond rapidly to any new variant.”

Mr Johnson said the dropped restrictions include testing at schools and the Covid passport system. Free tests for the public will also end.

But he said a fourth Covid-19 vaccine shot and continued testing for vulnerable groups would be available.

“We will continue to protect the most vulnerable,” Mr Johnson said.

“We now have sufficient levels of immunity to complete the transition from protecting people with government interventions to relying on vaccines and treatments as our first line of defence,” Mr Johnson said.

“Let us learn to live with this virus. It is time that we got our confidence back.”

At Downing Street, he said “the sun is shining but we’re keeping our umbrella” in the fight against coronavirus.

He praised the development of vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 as “possibly the greatest national effort in our peacetime history”.

But Mr Johnson said “we should be clear that the pandemic is not over”, and “there may be significant resurgences”.

England’s chief medical officer said people should still isolate if they have Covid-19, despite the legal requirement ending on Thursday.

Prof Sir Chris Whitty said it was “standard public health advice”, as he warned that while rates are coming down it is “still a very common infection”.

Prof Whitty and the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, also highlighted the importance of continuing surveillance of the virus.

“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," Prof Whitty said.

“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.”

There were immediate concerns from inside Parliament and from teachers' unions outside at the complete lifting of restrictions.

Opposition Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer demanded Mr Johnson publish the scientific evidence behind the plan.

“This is a half-baked announcement from a government paralysed by chaos and incompetence,” he said. “What confidence can the public have that this is the right approach?”

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: “It is not the case that we have defeated Covid, nor that everyone can 'live' with it".

She said that Government attendance data showed the “high disruption caused by illness and isolation” and that although the Omicron variant had “faded” across the population, “it is nonetheless a presence in schools".

Lifting restrictions

Mr Johnson announced the changes in the House of Commons on Monday and said all laws laying out Covid-19 restrictions would be lifted.

“First, we will remove all remaining domestic restrictions in law," 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.”

Mr Johnson's announcement was delayed after a Cabinet meeting was put back at the last minute.

The delay was thought to centre on a request from Health Secretary Sajid Javid on how elements of the “living with Covid” plan will be funded.

Another 15 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the total to 160,610, the government said.

These figures now include deaths in England after possible reinfections of Covid-19.

There were 38,409 cases of Covid-19 reported in the UK on Monday, the government said, which includes reinfections in England and Northern Ireland that are more than 90 days after a previous positive test.

Separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics show there have been 183,000 deaths registered where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate in the UK.

Updated: February 22, 2022, 6:16 AM