Boris Johnson signals early end to Covid self-isolation laws
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Boris Johnson yesterday announced England would lead the world in scrapping all coronavirus legislation, with more detailed plans to be outlined on February 21. He pledged that rules, including the need to self isolate if you test positive for the virus, would be gone by the end of the month “provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue”.
The announcement has heaped pressure on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with health a devolved matter.
While England is on track to return to pre-pandemic life in just a few weeks, Scotland could spend the majority of 2022 still living under strict Covid rules.
Nicola Sturgeon’s deputy first minister, John Swinney has announced plans to extend Scotland’s Covid regulations until September 24.
Scotland has enforced tougher restrictions than England for most of the pandemic, and introduced far more stringent rules for dealing with the Omicron variant in December.
These rules have since been scrapped but measures such as compulsory face coverings in indoor setting and vaccine passports for large events continue to remain.
They are now set to be reviewed every three weeks and could remain until after the summer.
Confirming the SNP’s plan to extend Covid rules yesterday, Mr Swinney said: “Following the lifting of Omicron restrictions, Ministers believe it is necessary to retain the availability of these baseline measures for now while we review our ongoing response to Covid.
“Taking steps now to extend these regulations does not mean that the regulations will necessarily remain in force until September, but will ensure they can continue for now, subject to three-weekly review in what is still an uncertain period of the pandemic.
“The Government is committed to regularly reviewing these regulations, as we are required to, and the continued removal of any measures considered no longer necessary.”
Covid cases across the UK have dropped considerably in recent weeks.
Yesterday 68,214 people were registered as having tested positive for the virus, far fewer than the 218,724 cases restored at the peak of the third wave on January 4.
The number of Covid patients in hospital is also dropping rapidly.
There are 13,545 NHS beds occupied by people with Covid, down from 19,985 on January 10.
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Covid regulations in England are due to expire on March 24, but Mr Johnson told MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions his intention to end the rules a month early.
“It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with Covid,” he said.
“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early.”
Downing Street said the move “shows that the hard work of the British people is paying off”.
The Prime Minister’s announcement enraged the SNP-led Scottish government, who claimed they were not given “appropriate notice” of his plans.
A spokeswoman said the UK Government “failed to provide devolved nations with appropriate notice to consider implications ahead of the announcement by the Prime Minister”.
She added: “Isolation and mask-wearing have been among the most effective non-pharmaceutical interventions in suppressing Covid spread.
“All public health measures are kept under continuous review, including guidance on self-isolation. Decisions are informed by the latest scientific and clinical advice as well as careful consideration of the four harms.”
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