oris Johnson unveiled what the Government’s living with Covid plan looks like – bringing an end to restrictions that the country has lived with for two years.
In the biggest step yet towards a “post-pandemic” life, rules mandating people in the UK to isolate when they have the virus are expected to be scrapped as well as free testing.
Self-isolation rules axed
Under Mr Johnson’s “living with Covid” plan, people who test positive for the virus will no longer legally need to self-isolate.
It represents a decisive move in the history of the pandemic, allowing Britons to mix with others and spread the virus freely.
He said: “From 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.”
However, it could pose ethical problems for companies and unions as employees would technically be allowed to attend work despite being infectious.
Free tests scrapped
The Prime Minister confirmed the end of free access to Covid tests, despite the plans causing a backlash.
Lateral flow and PCR tests are currently available free of charge, though the Treasury reportedly believes the estimated £10 billion annual cost of the scheme is not sustainable as it seeks to reduce the deficit.
In place of a general testing programme, ministers will rely on data from Covid surveillance schemes to monitor the spread of the virus.
The UK has carried out more than 463 million tests since the beginning of the pandemic – one of the highest rates in the world.
On testing and its cost, Mr Johnson told MPs: “We must now scale this back.”
He said: “From today we’re removing the guidance for staff and students in most education and childcare settings to undertake twice weekly asymptomatic testing and from April 1 when winter is over and the virus will spread less easily, we will end free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public.
“We will continue to provide free symptomatic tests to the oldest age groups and those most vulnerable to Covid and in line with the practice in many other countries, we’re working with retailers to ensure that everyone who wants to can buy a test.”
Test and trace wound down
The UK’s contact tracing system could also be wound down as part of the Government’s “living with Covid” plan.
NHS Test and Trace workers would no longer need to notify contacts of those who tested positive if there are no longer plans for tests to be provided for free.
The Scientific Advisory group for Emergencies (Sage) which advises the Government, said last week that ending free testing would make it harder for people to take precautions.
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick University said: “Living with Covid doesn’t mean letting our guard down”.
In November, leaked documents revealed the Test and Trace scheme would be dismantled as part of plans titled Operation Rampdown.
The scheme, which cost £37 billion, will reportedly come to an end in order to cut costs.
Statutory sick pay ended
On March 24, the Government will remove the Covid provisions on statutory sick pay and Employment Support Allowance.
Passenger locator forms scrapped
Passenger Locator Form and tests for unvaccinated arrivals, have ended in the UK.
“Contingency measures” will be kept in reserve so ministers can take “swift and proportionate action” if needed to tackle new variants.
Previously only fully vaccinated people were able to enter the UK without the need for tests.
All arrivals were also required to fill in a passenger locator form within 72 hours of travel, sharing their address, phone number, passport and flight details.