Boris Johnson is due to set out how England will “live with Covid” today as he considers scrapping all remaining restrictions.
The Prime Minister has said he intends to scrap the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test, with rules instead to be replaced with guidance.
The “living with Covid” plan will shift the balance away from “state mandation” with the aim of bringing the country “towards a return to normality”.
When will Boris Johnson announce his Covid plan?
Mr Johnson will meet with his Cabinet on Monday (21 February) morning to agree the plan for living with the virus after almost two years of restrictions, Downing Street said.
He is then expected to update parliament on his blueprint for moving out of the pandemic in the afternoon.
A news conference is then due to be held after 2.30pm to announce the details of the plan to the public this evening.
A time for the press conference has yet to be confirmed, but previous Covid announcements have typically been held at 5pm.
Speaking before his announcement on Monday, the Prime Minister said: “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.
“It would not be possible without the efforts of so many – the NHS who delivered the life-saving vaccine rollout 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 rollout 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.”
What rules are expected to change?
As announced on Saturday (19 February), the UK government confirmed that people who test positive for coronavirus and their close contacts will no longer legally have to self-isolate by the end of this week.
The requirement will be lifted by Thursday (24 February), according to the Mail On Sunday.
The government has not said if the changes will mean people can go to work after testing positive, but the PM's official spokesman previously said "there would be guidance, that would not be what we are recommending".
As well as dropping the legal requirement to self-isolate, the £500 test and trace support payment is also expected to be scrapped by 24 February.
The payment is currently available to people on low incomes, parents and guardians of children who have tested positive, who have to self-isolate and are left out of pocket as a result.
Health experts have criticised the plan to abandon self-isolation rules, with the Chair of the Council of the British Medical Association Dr Chaand Nagpaul branding it an “odd decision to make” when there are “more people dying, more people in the hospital” than before Plan B measures were introduced last year in response to the Omicron outbreak.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of Sage’s modelling subgroup, told Times Radio there was a “real concern” that getting rid of the rules would lead to more infections in workplaces.
Free Covid tests
The Prime Minister is also expected to set out a timetable for scaling back the availability of free Covid tests, although older and vulnerable people will reportedly continue to have access to them.
Mr Johnson told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme the UK spent £2 billion on testing in January alone and said such high expenditure did not need to continue.
Labour’s shadow secretary for health, Wes Streeting, described ending access to free testing as being like “subbing your best defender” with 10 minutes to go.
He told Sky News: “I am particularly concerned about the end of free testing.
“It is like being 2-1 up with 10 minutes left of play and subbing your best defender.
“We are not out of the woods yet on Covid and it is important that when the Government publishes its plan for living with Covid, that it is a robust plan that enables everyone to live well with Covid.”
Downing Street said its plan for “living with Covid” will also set out what arrangements will be in place for international travel.
This is likely to include guidance on Covid-19 testing requirements and self-isolation rules for both vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers when returning to the UK from abroad.
However, passenger locator forms are likely to continue to be required for travellers until the spring.
A ‘vaccine-led’ approach
Downing Street said the vaccination programme had left England in a “strong position to consider lifting the remaining legal restrictions”, with more than 81% of adults having received a booster dose, and Covid cases continuing to fall.
No 10 added that the plan for living with Covid would be “vaccine led”, with the programme remaining open to those who have not yet had a jab.
Mr Johnson told the BBC that Britain was in a “different world” after coming out of the Omicron variant wave, with the numbers of patients in intensive care “way down” and said the latest data meant it was time for the UK to shift the balance away from “state mandation” and towards “personal responsibility”.
However, he refused to rule out further lockdowns in the face of a new mutation in the future, saying he would have to be “humble in the face of nature”.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, NationalWorld.