British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will end all coronavirus restrictions in England including mandatory self-isolation for people with COVID-19 and free testing, drawing scepticism from some scientists and political opponents.
Mr Johnson’s “living with COVID” plan has sparked alarm that it is premature and will leave the country vulnerable to new viral variants but the government says it has provided more testing than most other countries and must now curb the cost.
As Hong Kong builds isolation units and Europe retains distancing and vaccine rules, Mr Johnson is moving to repeal any pandemic requirements that impinge on personal freedoms, saying it is time the public took responsibility.
He will lean even more on the roll-out of booster vaccines, with the government offering extra booster doses to the most vulnerable, as well as other pharmaceuticals interventions such as antiviral treatments.
“Restrictions pose a heavy toll on our economy, our society, our mental well-being and on the life chances of our children, and we do not need to pay that cost any longer,” Mr Johnson told parliament.
“So let us learn to live with this virus and continue protecting ourselves and others without restricting our freedoms.”
Mr Johnson said that the legal requirement to self-isolate for people who test positive for COVID-19 would be removed on February 24 while free universal testing would end on April 1.
But he said that some surveillance of the coronavirus would remain in place, allowing for a rapid response to new variants, which could be quickly scaled up.
The plan to ditch remaining legal restrictions is a priority for many of Johnson’s Conservative Party MPs whose discontent over his scandal-ridden leadership has threatened his grip on power.
The devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have set their own COVID-19 restrictions but the amount of money they have to spend on testing will flow from decisions made by the United Kingdom government.
Leaders in Scotland and Wales had criticised Mr Johnson’s plans to reduce the availability of testing ahead of the announcement while leader of the opposition Keir Starmer also said that the plan was ill-conceived.
“We can’t turn off Britain’s radar before the war is won. ‘Ignorance is bliss’ is not a responsible approach to a deadly virus,” Labour Party leader Mr Starmer said.