Work from home guidance, COVID passports and mandatory wearing of face masks are being scrapped in England, as Boris Johnson announced the lifting of Plan B measures.
The prime minister said people will no longer be told to work from home “from now on”, and from Thursday next week mandatory mask-wearing and COVID certification will end.
He confirmed the intention to end self-isolation rules for people with coronavirus in the coming weeks.The legal requirement would lapse when the regulations expire on 24 March, he said, and that date could be brought forward.
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The PM told the Commons cases were falling and the Omicron wave had likely peaked nationally, meaning rules could now be eased.
Advertisement Mr Johnson said it was time to “trust the judgement” of the public on the use of masks in enclosed and crowded places, and they will be scrapped in classrooms from tomorrow.
Restrictions on visits to care homes would also be eased further, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid setting out plans “in the coming days”.
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Is govt ready to end isolation against WHO guidance? Asked by Sky’s science and technology editor Tom Clarke about the justification for ending isolation against WHO guidance during a pandemic, the health secretary said the government was reviewing the policy.
Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, he said there is “no decision on that at this point” but pointed out that people with flu are not legally required to isolate and we must “find a way to live with COVID in a similar fashion”.
What’s the latest UK COVID data?
Coronavirus infection levels in three of the four UK nations – England, Scotland and Wales – have fallen for the first time since before Christmas, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data.
An estimated one in 20 people in private households in England are likely to have had the virus in the week to 15 January – about three million people – down from a record 3.7 million the previous week.
For Northern Ireland the latest figure is also one in 20, but the number of people testing positive is up slightly from 99,200 to 104,300, with the ONS describing the trend as “uncertain”.
In Scotland, the figure is about one in 20, or 236,600 people, down from 297,400 – and in Wales the estimate is one in 25, or 112,100 people, down from 169,100.
Analysis: Will this latest gamble pay off? Thomas Moore Science correspondent
@SkyNewsThomas There is little doubt that the Plan B restrictions – along with the voluntary behaviour changes and social sacrifices that people made in the run-up to Christmas – had an effect on the UK’s epidemic.
Soon after Plan B was introduced, the doubling time of the Omicron wave began to slow, buying time for the booster rollout.
But even though coronavirus cases are well down on their peak, they are still high, so lifting Plan B so soon looks like another roll of the dice.
But the government gambled on Omicron before – when infections were surging in December and hospitals were under extreme pressure, it ignored more precautionary calls from its scientific advisers to tighten restrictions further.
The government might be right.Immunity might be good enough for the next few weeks to hold back the virus.But it is a gamble.
Read the full analysis here
Has Omicron peaked?
The highest number of new cases to be reported on a single day during the current wave was 218,724 on 4 January.
A further 108,069 lab-confirmed COVID cases were recorded in the UK as of 9am on Wednesday, suggesting the peak of the latest wave of coronavirus may have passed.
There were 18,979 people in hospital with the virus as of 18 January.More than 34,000 people were in hospital with the virus at the peak of the second wave back in January 2021.
Is the pandemic entering its endgame?
Mr Johnson signalled his intention to start treating COVID more like flu, saying: “There will soon come a time when we can remove the legal requirement to self-isolate altogether, just as we don’t place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu.
“As COVID becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance, urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others.”
The PM said the government intended to set out its long-term strategy for “living with COVID” and relying on medical advances including vaccines “which have already saved so many lives”.
More than 90% of over-60s across the UK have now had booster vaccines, he said.
What are the COVID rules across the UK and how do they differ between countries?
The government’s Omicron strategy was a gamble that paid off – will lifting Plan B rules be the same?
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Senior Tory tells PM to ‘go’ Pressure to oust PM mounts
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Mr Johnson of being “too distracted to do the job”.
He said: “The 438 deaths recorded yesterday are a solemn reminder that this pandemic is not over.
“We need to remain vigilant, learn the lessons from the government’s mistakes, with new variants highly likely we must have a robust plan to live well with COVID.”
Mr Johnson’s Commons announcement comes as pressure continues to mount over parties and gatherings held in Downing Street and other government departments in 2020 and 2021.
There is speculation that a confidence vote in the PM’s leadership of his Conservative Party could soon be triggered by restive Tory MPs.
Around 12 more letters of no confidence in the PM were submitted this morning , according to Sky News political correspondents Sam Coates and Joe Pike.
And just before Prime Minister’s Questions earlier, Bury South MP Christian Wakeford announced he had defected from the Conservatives to Labour , accusing Mr Johnson of being “incapable of offering the leadership and government this country needs”.
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Cheers as Tory MP defects to Labour Scrapping of rules ‘a risk and could backfire’
Scientists and nursing leaders warned the relaxation of COVID rules is “premature” amid extremely high levels of infection and “unrelenting” pressure on health services.
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist from the University of Warwick, called for a need to “stay alert” for a possible resurgence of Omicron and the arrival of new variants.
Royal College of Nursing chief executive Pat Cullen said: “The prime minister’s decision to loosen the restrictions may have relieved the pressure from his backbenchers but will do nothing to relieve the pressure on the NHS.”
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