Boris Johnson Confirms End of COVID Restrictions

He says move ends 'two of the darkest, grimmest years in our peacetime history'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 20, 2022 11:20 AM CST
Updated Feb 21, 2022 4:54 PM CST
Experts Caution About UK Dropping COVID Restrictions
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, Monday Feb. 21, 2022, to outline the government's new long-term COVID-19 plan.   (Tolga Akmen/Pool via AP)

(Newser) Update: Boris Johnson confirmed Monday that his government is scrapping the last domestic COVID restrictions in England this week. The prime minister said it marked an end to "two of the darkest, grimmest years in our peacetime history," the AP reports. "Today is not the day we can declare victory over COVID, because this virus is not going away," Johnson said. "But it is the day when all the efforts of the last two years finally enabled us to protect ourselves whilst restoring our liberties in full.” He confirmed that mandatory self-isolation for people with COVID-19 will end starting Thursday and the routine tracing of infected people’s contacts will stop, along with most free testing. The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, said the government's "half-baked" approach would leave Britain vulnerable. "'Ignorance is bliss' is not a responsible approach to a deadly virus," Starmer said. Our story from Sunday follows:

People with COVID-19 won't be legally required to self-isolate in England starting in the coming week, the UK government has announced, as part of a plan for "living with COVID" that is also likely to see testing for the coronavirus scaled back. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said ending all of the legal restrictions brought in to curb the spread of the virus will "protect ourselves without restricting our freedoms." He is expected to lay out details of the plan in Parliament on Monday, the AP reports. "I'm not saying that we should throw caution to the winds, but now is the moment for everybody to get their confidence back," Johnson told the BBC in an interview broadcast Sunday.

"We've reached a stage where we think you can shift the balance away from state mandation, away from banning certain courses of action, compelling certain courses of action, in favor of encouraging personal responsibility," Johnson said. But some of the government's scientific advisers said it was a risky move that could bring a surge in infections and weaken the country's defenses against more virulent future strains. Wes Streeting, health spokesman for the opposition Labor Party, accused Johnson of "declaring victory before the war is over."

Johnson's Conservative government says it will remove "all remaining domestic COVID regulations that restrict public freedoms." The legal requirement to isolate for at least five days after a positive COVID-19 test will be replaced with advisory measures, and the coronavirus will be treated more like the flu as it becomes endemic. Scientists stressed that much remains unknown about the virus and future variants that may be more severe than the currently dominant omicron strain. Epidemic modelers who advise the government also warned that "a sudden change, such as an end to testing and isolation, has the scope to lead to a return to rapid epidemic growth" if people throw caution to the wind. (Queen Elizabeth II has tested positive.)

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