Boris Johnson Announces End Of "Plan B" Covid Restrictions As Omicron Cases Continue To Fall
The Prime Minister has announced all Plan B Covid restrictions will be scrapped from next week.
Boris Johnson told the Commons most Covid rules in England will be lifted from next week as he defended the government's approach to tackling the Omicron variant.
Updating MPs on the coronavirus situation in England, the Prime Minister urged people to go back to work, saying employers should begin to put plans in place for bringing staff back.
Johnson announced that laws enforcing restrictions were also being scrapped, saying from next week the government would "no longer mandate the wearing of face masks anywhere", while rules on face coverings in schools would also be dropped from tomorrow.
He said the government would continue to encourage the use of face coverings in large or crowded places, but said the legal mandate would be dropped.
"We will trust the judgement of the British people and no longer criminalise anyone who chooses not to wear one," he explained.
"The government will also ease restrictions further on visits to care homes."
"Our scientists now believe the Omicron wave has peaked nationally."
The Prime Minister also said he planned to bring forward a Commons vote to scrap the requirement for self-isolation sooner than the current planned date when the regulations expire on 24 March.
"As Covid becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others.
"The self-isolation regulations expire on the 24 March, at which point I very much expect not to renew them. Indeed, were the data to allow, I would like to seek a vote in this House to bring that date forward."
Restrictions were introduced in December as part of so-called "Plan B" measures aimed at slowing the spread of the highly transmissable Omicron variant.Ministers also significantly expanded the vaccine booster programme to all adults in a bid to increase protection from serious illness during the winter months.
The government had committed to reviewing the rules ahead of 26 January when they are currently set to expire.
Johnson's statement came as Covid cases continued to drop across the UK, with new infections dropping by 38.9% over the past seven days, while hospital admissions have also fallen by 2.9% in the week ending 14 January.
Speaking later at a Downing Street press conference, health secretary Sajid Javid the Omicron variant was "in retreat" across the country and that England is in the "next chapter" of its fight against the virus.
But he warned that this is "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-19 this spring."
The requirement to show Covid passes – confirming either full vaccination status or a recent negative test – in nightclubs and at large events has also been scrapped.
The announcement follows similar changes in other parts of the UK, with Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announcing that most restrictions – such as limits on the indoor events and the closure of nightclubs – would be lifted from Monday.
Speaking on Wednesday, Scotland's national clinical director said the UK was in the "endgame" of the Omicron wave.
“I hope we’re in the endgame, and the WHO are telling us still to be cautious – don’t drop your guard for surveillance of other variants that might come into your country or you might generate yourself. But we’re definitely in a downward slope of Omicron, which is terrific news," he said.
The rule changes are likely to be welcomed by some Conservative MPs who had vocally opposed the introduction of new restrictions, and come as Boris Johnson fends off a potential revolt from his backbenches.
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