Johnson signals early end to England’s COVID isolation rules

Law requiring those infected to isolate could be scrapped this month as PM plans to end domestic COVID restrictions.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen leaving his official 10 Downing Street residence in London
Johnson is set to present his plan for the UK's long-term approach to COVID-19 on February 21 [Tom Nicholson/Reuters]

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that laws requiring people in England with COVID-19 to self-isolate could be lifted by the end of the month amid a fall in infection rates, bringing an end to all domestic coronavirus restrictions.

“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,” Johnson told the United Kingdom Parliament on Wednesday.

Under the current rules, people who test positive now have to isolate for five full days. That rule is to expire on March 24.

Johnson added he plans to present his plan for lifting COVID curbs when Parliament returns from a short break on February 21.

He was also challenged by lawmakers during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons about a photo published on Wednesday by the Daily Mirror newspaper showing him at a Christmas quiz during December 2020 when strict restrictions on social gatherings were in place.

Johnson said the event had already been submitted to the police for investigation as part of their probe into alleged lockdown-breaking events held at his official Downing Street residence during the pandemic.

The embattled prime minister has faced persistent calls from opposition legislators to resign over the so-called “Partygate” scandal, while several members of his own party have also moved to try and trigger a vote of no confidence in his leadership.

Infection rate falling

Johnson’s government dropped most remaining COVID-19 restrictions last month. Face masks are no longer mandatory anywhere in England, except on London’s public transport network. Virus passports for gaining entry to nightclubs and large-scale events were scrapped, as was the official advice to work from home.

The moves came amid a drop in both new infections and COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals in the UK since early January, when the highly transmissible Omicron variant drove daily caseloads upwards to more than 200,000 a day.

The average number of daily infections is currently hovering at about the 64,000 mark, the lowest recorded since mid-December.

Officials have credited the government’s booster jab programme with preventing the surge of cases driven by Omicron from causing serious stress to the UK’s healthcare system. Nationwide, 65.4 percent of people aged 12 and over have had a booster vaccine, and 84.5 percent have been fully vaccinated.

The government has said it plans to switch from legal restrictions to advisory measures and treat the coronavirus more like the flu.

Beginning Friday, the rules for people travelling to the UK will also be relaxed. Fully vaccinated travellers will no longer need to take any coronavirus tests before or after arrival, and those who are not fully jabbed won’t have to isolate, although they will need to take tests.

The UK has the second-highest COVID death toll in Europe after Russia, with more than 159,000 deaths since the pandemic began.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies