What would ‘living with Covid’ look like?

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What would ‘living with Covid’ look like?
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Boris Johnson is reportedly drawing up plans setting out how the UK will “learn to live with Covid” following a huge wave of infection sparked by the Omicron variant.

The Prime Minister is mulling whether to scrap free lateral flow tests and cut the self-isolation period for positive cases to five days as part of plans to return to normality this year.

Mr Johnson has insisted the UK must “ride the Omicron wave” despite infections soaring to record highs, stressing the variant’s reduced severity means that the NHS will be able to cope.

But with ministers now claiming the virus could be “endemic” within months, what could Downing Street’s plan for “living with Covid” look like?

End of free lateral flow tests

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi was forced to deny a report in the Sunday Times that the Government is poised to announce the end of free lateral flow tests within weeks.

Mr Zahawi said he was “puzzled” by the report, though sources told the newspaper the move could save £6 billion.

Officials are said to be weighing up plans for lateral flows to be exclusively available in “high-risk” settings, such as hospitals and care homes.

NHS Test and Trace would also be scaled back as part of the measures, the newspaper reported.

Despite Mr Zahawi’s denial, Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper pointed out vaccines minister Maggie Throup confirmed early in December that “at a later stage” the “free universal provision of LFD (lateral flow device) tests will end”.

Self-isolation shortened

Boris Johnson on Tuesday confirmed the Government is examining cutting the self-isolation period for people who test positive for Covid from seven days to five.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a vaccination clinic in Uxbridge, the Prime Minister said the government was “looking at” the policy change but would “follow the science”.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi became the first minister to publicly back the move on Sunday.

He said the move would “certainly help” ease staff shortages in the NHS and schools caused by a wave of Omicron infections.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have claimed cutting the isolation period to five days would be “counterproductive” as modelling suggested that between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of people are still infectious on Day Six.

Officials argue releasing an infectious person early would allow the disease to spread in workplace settings and exacerbate staffing shortages.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Uxbridge, west London, after a visit to a Boots Pharmacy coronavirus vaccination clinic (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Uxbridge, west London, after a visit to a Boots Pharmacy coronavirus vaccination clinic (PA Wire)

PCR tests scrapped for asymptomatic cases

From Tuesday, asymptomatic people who test positive with a lateral flow test will no longer need to follow up their result with a PCR test.

The changes in testing procedures are aimed at freeing up laboratory capacity for PCR tests amid a surge in demand.

The UKHSA has stressed the measures is “temporary” requirement until the current high levels of infections subside.

People who have Covid symptoms - including a loss of sense or smell, cough or fever - should still get a PCR test.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Government’s Sage scientific advisory panel, backed the move.

He said a confirmatory PCR “not only wastes time but costs a lot of money and uses up laboratory resources that could be better used elsewhere”.

No more testing for travel

Rules for travelling in and out of the UK have changed constantly during the pandemic.

Despite the relaxation of domestic restrictions, testing and quarantine measures are subject to change at a moment’s notice as new variants appear overseas.

PCR tests are no longer required for people arriving back in the UK after ministers conceded that domestic transmission of Omicron was too high to justify restrictions.

Expensive “day two” tests have also been scrapped in favour of a cheaper lateral flow test.

Britons arriving back in the country are also no longer required to isolate until they receive the result of their day two test.

The end of social distancing and masks

The two-metre social distancing rule was axed on July 19 last year, the date that most restrictions were lifted in England.

However, it remains in place in specific locations including airport arrival halls.

Face masks were also reintroduced nationally last month to combat a surge in Omicron cases after being almost completely axed on July 19.

Under the current measures, they must be worn on public transport, in healthcare settings, shops and in places of worship.

Ministers have not confirmed whether Plan B restrictions will end, with face masks likely to remain for the time being while prevalence of the virus is so high.

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