Millions of people in England are set to be relieved of coronavirus restrictions under Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “live with Covid” plan.
Mr Johnson had been scheduled to chair a cabinet meeting on Monday morning to discuss his plan with ministers, but it was cancelled at short notice. Some government ministers were photographed arriving in Downing Street for the meeting, but the prime minister's official spokesman said it would instead be held via a call rather than in person “because of expedience”.
The spokesman said the meeting was cancelled “so that the prime minister could have both a security briefing and have further meetings to finalise the plan on living with Covid”. It is uncommon for Cabinet meetings to be cancelled at such short notice.
No 10 said Mr Johnson would still give a statement to MPs in the House of Commons on his plan. However, he is expected to make the announcement at around 4.30pm — slightly later than had originally been expected.
The delay to the meeting is understood to have centred on a request from Health Secretary Sajid Javid regarding how elements of the plan would be funded.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the delayed cabinet meeting was a sign of “chaos and incompetence”.
What rules are set to be scrapped?
Downing Street said the prime minister’s plan would be “vaccine led”, with the programme remaining open to those who have not yet had an inoculation.
The Conservative leader’s blueprint to further release society from rules comes two years after the first measures were introduced at the beginning of the pandemic.
The plan will include the overturning of the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive coronavirus test. This would mean people in England who know they have the virus would be free to go out in public and mix with others.
Under the rules as they stand, people who test positive have to isolate for up to 10 days, but can leave early if they test negative for Covid-19 on lateral flow tests on days five and six.
The requirement is due to expire at the end of March, but earlier this month the prime minister said “encouraging trends” in Covid-19 data meant that ministers hoped to scrap the rule a month early.
Government-funded PCR tests for people displaying Covid-19 symptoms are also expected to be scrapped. It is unclear whether the availability of free lateral flow tests will be reduced.
Mr Johnson said testing would continue at a “much lower level” under his plan.
Business Minister Paul Scully suggested the government could stop providing free coronavirus tests, as the £2 billion ($2.72bn) a month could be better used elsewhere.
He told Sky News: “We can’t continue for evermore spending £2bn a month on tests.”
What advice will replace the rules?
Mr Scully suggested Covid-19 should be treated like “any illness” in terms of staying at home.
“I would say that it’s like any illness, frankly, any transmissible illness that you would say stay at home,” he told Sky News, but he admitted “It’ll be down to themselves or down to their employer”.
He said workers should contact Acas, the public body which aims to improve working conditions for people in the UK, if they “really think that there is a detriment to them”.
Will this be the end to all restrictions in England?
While the prime minister has said he hopes his “live with Covid” plan will take England “towards a return to normality”, some are likely to continue to face restrictions.
All travellers to England are required to complete a passenger locator form before arrival.
Unvaccinated travellers have to take a Covid-19 test (PCR or lateral flow) before travelling to England and must have a pre-booked PCR test to take upon arrival. Only those who return a positive result are required to self-isolate.
The Department for Transport is expected to review the rules before Easter.
What has Boris Johnson said about his plan?
Mr Johnson said the proposal would be about “finally giving people back their freedom” after “one of the most difficult periods in our country’s history”.
“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 announcement on Monday.
“It would not be possible without the efforts of so many — the NHS who delivered the life-saving vaccine roll-out 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 roll-out 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.”