August 8, 2022

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Boris Johnson confirms pandemic restrictions will lead to England

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s surprise decision to end all domestic Covid restrictions in England...

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s surprise decision to end all domestic Covid restrictions in England one month early are either “very brave or very stupid”, scientists have warned.
r Johnson told MPs on Wednesday that the legal requirement to self-isolate could be scrapped by the end of this month, instead of the end of March as originally planned.
But the move has been met with unease from the scientific community, with national Covid cases once again on the rise.
Mr Johnson was accused of playing “fast and loose with people’s health” in an attempt to placate unrest among Tory backbenchers as the fallout from ‘Partygate’ continues.
Labour’s West Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said the announcement at the start of Prime Minister’s Questions was “designed to dig him out of a political hole, with no plan to back it up”.
As well as ending the legal requirement to isolate, legal powers for councils to shut down premises linked to outbreaks will be removed.

But no changes are expected to international travel restrictions, and the supply of testing kits free of charge will continue, said Mr Johnson’s spokesperson.
One member of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) highlighted how there was no consideration given to the prospect of lifting self-isolation rules during the most recent meeting.
Another scientific adviser to the government said the prime minister’s announcement “doesn’t seem very cautious”, adding that he was “very concerned that the number of cases remains very high”.
Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at University of Reading, called the move “an experiment which will either be shown to be very brave or very stupid – but nobody knows for sure what the result will be”.
Guidance will remain in place to stay home after a positive Covid test – as with any infectious disease – but it will not be legally enforceable. No 10 declined to say whether the £500 support payment for those isolating will be withdrawn.
“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early,” Mr Johnson said.
He said he would present the government’s ‘Living With Covid’ strategy when the Commons returns from its recess on February 21. Aides said remaining restrictions are expected to be lifted by February 24 at the latest.
The surprise policy announcement came as new figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed infection levels have risen in most parts of the UK, with only Wales experiencing a clear week-on-week decline.
In England, around one in 19 people were estimated to have had the virus in the week to February 5, or 2.8 million people – up from one in 20 in the previous week. However, the ONS described the trend as “uncertain”.
Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said he “certainly didn’t expect” the government to drop its self-isolation guidance this month.
He said there were “grounds for optimism” in the current data, pointing to the example of falling cases among children and declining hospital admission rates, but expressed concern over England’s vulnerable people.
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of Nervtag, a Sage sub-committee, told BBC Radio 4 “it would be wholly wrong to say that the pandemic is in any way over” and suggested the population has “become rather used” to the country’s high infection and death rates.
On Wednesday, 68,214 new cases were reported in the UK, alongside 276 further deaths and 1,196 hospitalisations.
“I think we’re all really looking forward to being able to get back to some sort of normality and we know Omicron is generally fairly mild in people who have immunity and most adults have immunity now, either because we’ve been vaccinated or because we’ve been infected or both.
“So, we’re going in the right direction, but this doesn’t seem very cautious,” he said.
Under the current Covid rules, individuals who test positive for the virus are ordered to self-isolate for at least five days and can face considerable fines for non-compliance.
However regulations mandating people to wear face masks in certain settings and guidance to work from home to contain the spread of the ended in January.
Dr James Gill, an honorary clinical lecturer at Warwick Medical School, said: “Frankly I see no justifiable reason for the scrapping of this law, certainly not from the perspective of patients, nor from a business case either as the Omicron variant is highly contagious.”
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will make their own decisions on whether to move at the same time as England, and cities like London which still require face-coverings on public transport will be permitted to continue to do so.

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