LONDON – People with COVID-19 will not be legally required to self-isolate in England from the coming week, the British government has announced, as part of a plan to “live with COVID” which is also expected to see testing for the coronavirus has receded.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said ending all legal restrictions introduced to curb the spread of the virus will allow Britons to “protect themselves without restricting our freedoms”. He is expected to present details of the plan to Parliament on Monday.
“I’m not saying we should throw caution to the winds, but now is the time for everyone to get their confidence back,” Johnson told the BBC in an interview that aired on Sunday.
“We have reached a stage where we think you can shift the balance away from the mandate of the state, away from banning certain courses of action, forcing certain courses of action, in favor of encouraging personal responsibility.”
But some of the government’s scientific advisers said it was a risky move that could lead to an increase in infections and weaken the country’s defenses against future more virulent strains.
Wes Streeting, health spokesman for the main opposition Labor Party, accused Johnson of “declaring victory before the end of the war”.
A reminder that the coronavirus remains widespread came with the news that Queen Elizabeth II tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. Buckingham Palace said the 95-year-old monarch was suffering from mild, cold-like symptoms.
Johnson’s Conservative government lifted most virus restrictions in January, scrapping vaccination passports for sites and ending mask mandates in most settings except hospitals in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are setting their own public health rules, have also opened up, although more slowly.
A combination of high vaccination rates in the UK and the milder omicron variant means the easing of restrictions has not led to increased hospitalizations and deaths. Both are down, although the UK still has the highest coronavirus tally in Europe after Russia, with more than 160,000 recorded deaths.
In Britain, 85% of people aged 12 and over have received two doses of the vaccine and almost two-thirds have received a third booster shot.
Now the Tory government says it will remove “all remaining national COVID regulations that restrict public freedoms” as part of a “shift from government intervention towards personal responsibility”.
The legal requirement to isolate for at least five days after a positive COVID-19 test will be replaced by advisory measures, and the coronavirus will be treated more like the flu as it becomes endemic.
The new plan calls for vaccines and treatments to control the virus, although the government has said “surveillance systems and emergency measures will be retained” if necessary.
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“COVID will not suddenly disappear, and we must learn to live with this virus and continue to protect ourselves without restricting our freedoms,” Johnson said.
The announcement will appeal to many Conservative Party lawmakers, who argue the restrictions were ineffective and disproportionate. It could also bolster Johnson’s standing among party lawmakers, who are pondering a bid to oust him over scandals, including from government parties that breached the lockdown during the pandemic.
But scientists stressed there are still many unknowns about the virus and future variants that could be more severe than the currently dominant omicron strain.
The New and Emerging Virus Threats Advisory Group, which advises the government, said last week that the idea that viruses are getting progressively milder “is a common misconception”. He said the milder disease associated with omicron “is likely a chance event” and future variants could be more severe or elude current vaccines.
Epidemic modellers advising the government have also warned that ‘sudden change, such as the end of testing and isolation, has the possibility of leading to a return to rapid epidemic growth’ if people shed caution. in the wind.
Scientists have also warned against cutting free rapid coronavirus tests, which have been distributed in the millions during the pandemic. Health officials say mass testing has played an important role in slowing the spread of the virus.
Scientists are also concerned that the government will end the Office for National Statistics’ infection survey, which is seen as invaluable as it tests people whether they have symptoms or not.
“Now is not the time to take risks,” said Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, an umbrella group for state-funded health authorities in Britain. “We need to operate in a progressive and evidence-based way.”
By Associated Press writer Jill Lawless
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How to get tested
Tampa Bay: The Times can help you find free, public COVID-19 testing sites in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties.
Florida: The Department of Health has a website that lists testing sites in the state. Some information may be out of date.
United States: The Department of Health and Human Services has a website that can help you find a testing site.
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How to get vaccinated
The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and older and boosters for eligible recipients are being administered at doctor’s offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow you to book appointments online. Here’s how to find a site near you:
Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Immunization Hotline.
Call: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish, and other languages.
Disability Access and Information Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email [email protected]
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OMICRON VARIANT: Omicron has changed what we know about COVID. Here’s the latest on how the infectious variant of COVID-19 is affecting masks, vaccines, recalls and quarantine.
CHILDREN AND VACCINES: Do you have questions about your child’s vaccination? Here are some answers.
REMINDER SHOTS: Not sure which COVID reminder to get? This guide will help you.
APPEAL QUESTIONS: Are there any side effects? Why do I need it? Here are the answers to your questions.
PROTECTING SENIORS: Here’s how older people can stay safe from the virus.
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