Only 17% of people think Boris Johnson should scrap COVID isolation laws

A message to self-isolate, with one day of required isolation remaining, is displayed on the NHS coronavirus contact tracing app on a mobile phone, in London. Picture date: Thursday July 15, 2021. (Photo by Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)
Self isolation rules will be scrapped in England (Yui Mok/PA Images via Getty Images)

People who test positive for coronavirus will no longer be legally required to isolate from Thursday, and free universal testing will end in April under Boris Johnson’s plan for “living with COVID”.

The prime minister detailed the strategy for England to the Commons late on Monday afternoon

Johnson has been sharply criticised by some health experts, who have cautioned that the number of new cases remains too high to justify the scrapping of all remaining domestic rules.

Read more about today's COVID announcement:
Boris Johnson says free Covid tests in England will end on 1 April
Legal isolation for Covid to end from Thursday, Boris Johnson says

And it appears the public shares some of these concerns - particularly around the decision to scrap the legal requirement for those who test positive for COVID to isolate for up to 10 days.

According to a survey by YouGov, nearly half of Brits (48%) believe self-isolation rules should be legally required permanently, while 27% agreed this should be the case for at least the next few months.

Almost half those surveyed by YouGov wanted isolation rules kept in place permanently, with 27% agreeing they they should be legally required for 'the next few months' at least (YouGov)
Almost half those surveyed by YouGov wanted isolation rules kept in place permanently, with 27% agreeing they they should be legally required for 'the next few months' at least (YouGov)

Older people are more likely to want restrictions kept in place with 86% of those aged 65 and over saying isolation rules should remain permanent or remain for the next few months, compared to 75% of 18-24-year-olds.

Those living in London (78%) are the most likely to support ongoing restrictions, while those in the North (73%) are least likely to.

A YouGov survey showed that those over 50 were more likely to want isolation rules ot stay in place permanently (YouGov)
A YouGov survey showed that those over 50 were more likely to want isolation rules ot stay in place permanently (YouGov)

Johnson told MP it was time to “move from Government restrictions to personal responsibility”, with “sufficient levels of immunity to complete the transition” from laws to relying on vaccines and treatments.

Experts have warned that lifting restrictions too quickly could plunge England back into a pandemic, with the virus spreading through those who become infected but cannot afford to isolate.

One Sage adviser has said he is concerned it is too early for the scrapping of self-isolation rules and free testing.

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), told Times Radio that at some point the restrictions would have to be eased but that “the concern now is that we still have relatively high cases”.

“The concern, of course, is with removing testing, removing self-isolation, that may cause quite a big change in behaviour.”

Tildesley said one of his biggest concerns was support for people in low-income jobs to isolate and that there was a “real concern” that getting rid of the rules would lead to more infections in workplaces.

“If we lose free testing then a lot of people won’t test any more and without that data that will put us in a much weaker position,” he added.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference to update the nation on the status of the Covid-19 pandemic, in the Downing Street briefing room in central London on January 4, 2022. - British hospitals have switched to a
Boris Johnson has announced that COVID isolation rules will be scrapped in England (Jack Hill / POOL / AFP)

He said that “in the longer term” we would have to move to a post-COVID phase, but “in the short term we’re not out of the woods yet”.

The Government should only end self-isolation when case rates are falling, the chair of the Council of the British Medical Association has said.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul told BBC News: “I think the right time is when the first leap of faith is supported.

“You have at the moment more people dying, more people in the hospital, than you had before plan B was introduced.

“It seems a rather odd decision to make. Secondly, we need to see case rates fall down even more remembering that people aren’t being restricted at the moment in any severe way at all – people are living normally.

“The second thing is we do need therefore to continue having surveillance because you won’t know whether you’ve reached that point where the infection rates have come down enough until you’ve had that surveillance.”

Watch: Boris Johnson ends isolation laws

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford, said the UK has a “wall of immunity now” thanks to the vaccines “but the decision about when and how to reduce restrictions is enormously difficult”.

He said the benefits of restrictions are obvious in “reducing chains of transmission, the risks of people getting infected, the burden on the health system”, but the harms of restrictions are harder to assess.

“They include things, just from a health perspective, like the the impact on hospitals of having staff self-isolating, the inability to perform operations, there will be surgery cancelled today that may be critical for people because of staff who are off work during that period; the impact on education, on the workplace and the economy.

“The impacts on the economy and mental health will have longer-term consequences. So if we could find a measure that brings all of that together, we could work out the exact right moment (for lifting restrictions).”

Sir Andrew said “there isn’t a right or wrong answer to this because we don’t have a measure that helps us get there”.