Boris Johnson scraps Plan B COVID rules and mandatory face masks from next week
Watch: England's Plan B COVID measures to be lifted
Boris Johnson has announced an easing of England’s Plan B coronavirus restrictions amid a battle to save his premiership.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, the prime minister said that the restrictions brought in to tackle the Omicron wave – including vaccine passes and mandatory face masks – will be allowed to expire on 26 January.
Work from home guidance has been removed with immediate effect.
Face masks for school pupils in classrooms will be scrapped from Thursday, with school communal areas to follow.
Sajid Javid confirmed the changes in a Downing Street press conference, saying that Omicron is “in retreat”, but that now is not the “finish line” in the fight against coronavirus.
He described the relaxation of measures as a “major milestone”, adding: “But it’s not the end of the road and we shouldn’t see this as the finish line because we cannot eradicate this virus and its future variants.
“Instead we must learn to live with COVID in the same way we have to live with flu. And we will be setting out our long-term plan for living with COVID this spring.”
Tory MPs cheered at the announcement on face masks in parliament, but were criticised for their reaction.
SNP shadow chancellor Alison Thewliss tweeted: "Just watched Tory MPs taking off their face masks and swinging them around their head. Ridiculous complacency."
But Tory MP Desmond Swayne tweeted: "PM announces end of restrictions including masks: Halleluja."
The PM said the government had taken a “different path” to much of Europe and the “data are showing that, time and again, this government got the toughest decisions right”.
Johnson signalled his intention to start treating COVID more like flu, saying: “There will soon come a time when we can remove the legal requirement to self isolate altogether, just as we don’t place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu."
Responding to the announcement, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed the PM is “too distracted to do the job” and the country needs to "remain vigilant".
Some experts criticised the decision to scrap mask-wearing in schools.
Professor Christina Pagel, director of University College London's clinical operational research unit, tweeted: "Removing masks in schools is crazy."
Watch: Which COVID rules are being scrapped in England?
Johnson said the government will make an announcement about easing COVID travel restrictions “in the next few days”, after former PM Theresa May asked whether testing would still be required for people coming into England who are fully vaccinated.
Signalling that Brits would need to have three jabs to be able to travel internationally, he added: “I think it’s very important everybody in the country understands that getting your booster, wherever you want to go in the world, getting your booster is going to be a pretty crucial thing to do.”
The news comes as data shows infection levels are falling in most parts of the UK for the first time since early December.
The move away from restrictions will please the large portion of the Conservative party who want all restrictions scrapped – a much needed boost for the PM while he struggles to contain the fury over the Downing Street lockdown parties.
A number of Tories have lost faith in the prime minister, after he admitted attending a “bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden during England’s first coronavirus lockdown.
Johnson has insisted that “nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules” and he believed he was attending a work event.
Seven Conservative MPs have publicly announced that they have submitted letters of no confidence in the PM.
One MP, Christian Wakeford, defected to the Labour party on Wednesday morning.
The Plan B measures were introduced to combat the wave of cases driven by the Omicron variant, with the aim of buying time to offer more booster jabs.
Johnson’s announcement follows Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s plans to ease them in Scotland from Monday.