Plan B: All Covid restrictions to end, Boris Johnson announces

Boris Johnson has confirmed that Plan B measures to control the spread of coronavirus in England will be allowed to expire.

Mr Johnson, speaking to the House of Commons after a tumultuous PMQS, said that working from guidance, a requirement to wear face masks and the use of Covid passports in some settings would be dropped.

He said more than 90 per cent of over-60s across the UK had now had booster vaccines to protect them, and scientists believed the Omicron wave had peaked.

He 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".

People will no longer be told to work from home and, from Thursday next week when Plan B measures lapse, mandatory Covid certification will end, Mr Johnson said.

“Organisations can of course choose to use the NHS Covid pass voluntarily but we will end the compulsory use of Covid safety certification in England,” Mr Johnson said.

The Government’s guidance to work from home will end immediately, he said. “From now on the Government is no longer asking people to work from home. People should now speak to their employers about arrangements for returning to the office,” Mr Johnson said.

The Government will also no longer mandate the wearing of face masks anywhere from next Thursday and they will be scrapped in classrooms from this Thursday.

On face coverings, the Prime Minister said: “Having looked at the data carefully the Cabinet concluded that once regulations lapse, the Government will no longer mandate the wearing of face masks.”

Mr Johnson said the Government will also further ease restrictions on visiting care homes, adding that Health Secretary Sajid Javid will set out further details in the coming days.

People will still be required to self isolate if they test positive for Covid, Mr Johnson added. The rules were changed on Monday shortening the period of isolation to five from seven days, providing they can produce two negative tests. Mr Johnson added: “There will soon come a time when we remove the legal requirement to isolate altogether.”

The news comes as Covid infection levels are falling in most parts of the UK for the first time since early December.

The changes are as follows:

You can read in more detail on this here.

Mr Johnson said the Government would set out its "long-term strategy for living with Covid-19", adding: "Explaining how we hope and intend to protect our liberty and avoid restrictions in future by relying instead on medical advances, especially the vaccines which have already saved so many lives.

"But to make that possible we must all remain cautious during these last weeks of winter. There are still over 16,000 people in hospital in England alone. The pandemic is not over."

Mr Johnson insisted Omicron is "not a mild disease for everyone", including the unvaccinated, and advised people to continue washing their hands, letting fresh air in, testing and self-isolating if positive.

The Prime Minister went on: "This week the World Health Organisation said that while the global situation remains challenging, the United Kingdom can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is no accident of history.

"Confronted by the nation's biggest challenge since the Second World War, and the worst pandemic since 1918, any government would get some things wrong - but this Government got the big things right."

But the announcement sparked warnings from health groups.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the council of the British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said it "risks creating a false sense of security" while infections remain high and the NHS is "still under crippling pressure".

"Removing all restrictions risks a rebound in the number of infections across society, would inevitably increase hospitalisation rates, further destabilise patient care and drive up the rate of staff absences and the number of people with long Covid," he added.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation representing health bodies, said now "is not the time for complacency about this virus" as he warned the NHS is "under significant pressure".

"We will have greater freedoms but the cost - at least in the short term - will be that more people are likely to get sick with Covid, and that the health service will continue to have to deal with the extra burdens that this creates," he said.

Downing Street later said the Government's scientific advisers had "no objection to the approach taken" in ditching England's Plan B.

Asked if the Sage panel had advised the Government to maintain mandatory mask-wearing, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "No, we are not receiving advice from the CMO (chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty) and CSA (chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance) to keep that in place."

Dr Susan Hopkins, the UK Health Security Agency's chief medical adviser, told a press conference in No 10 that case rates will largely decline but "may plateau at some point", explaining that how quickly people change their behaviour will "determine how fast infection can spread in the population".

"The biggest response that we all have as individuals is to take our personal behaviour seriously and that really is driving towards vaccination uptake, as well as remembering to wear our face coverings when you're in closed spaces with people that you don't know," she added.

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