England revives Plan A: living with COVID

England returned to its so-called "Plan A" on Thursday (January 27) - learning to live with COVID-19, a disease that is probably here to stay.

Mask mandates and COVID passes lapsed, and work-from-home guidance ended last week.

The bet is that a combination of booster jab, antiviral pills and Omicron's lower severity will enable the government to manage outbreaks of a virus that cannot be shut out.

Now, the UK Health Security Agency is preparing to switch the focus to supporting vulnerable individuals rather than imposing national rules, according to a draft policy seen by Reuters.

Graham Medley, chair of the government's COVID modelling group said when tougher measures were introduced in December, the severity of Omicron and the impact of boosters had been unclear.

"As the amount of immunity develops in the population, so each future wave becomes less of a problem for government... However, I think the other thing that we can be pretty sure about is that there will be steps backwards.''

A relentless focus on managing COVID, rather than preventing infections, can also have unwanted side-effects.

With the National Health Service resources diverted towards vaccination boosters, thousands of other appointments have been postponed, adding to a vast backlog of elective care in the state-run system.

At the same time, high infection rates among staff and patients continue to weigh heavily on hospitals.

As police investigate gatherings held at Prime Minister Johnson's office during COVID lockdowns, in apparent violation of laws he had himself imposed - and with many of his own lawmakers determined that he must return life to near-normal, Johnson has a strong political imperative to lift restrictions.

Other countries equally keen to unshackle business and personal freedom will be watching.

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