Covid-19 self-isolation and free tests to end in England

By Hamed Chapman

London, (The Muslim News): Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has called time on free Covid-19 tests, routine contact tracing and any requirement to self isolate even though admitting that the pandemic is not over.

“Because of the efforts we have made as a country over the past two years we can now deal with it in a very different way, moving from Government restrictions to personal responsibility,” Johnson told Parliament on Monday

But his removal of Government intervention without presenting scientific evidence in the face of the rest of Europe retaining social distancing and vaccine rules was fiercely criticised by opposition political leaders, warning that it was premature and will leave the country vulnerable to new viral variants.

“As a nation, there is no doubt we need to move on from Covid. People need to know their liberties are returning and returning for good. But this is a half-baked, from a Government paralysed by chaos and incompetence. It is not a plan to live well with Covid,” Labour’s Keir Starmer told MPs.

SNP Westminster Leader, Ian Blackford, accused the Prime Minister of making decisions that are “bereft of science or consultation” and “purely political and made up on the hoof”.

“This statement is not about protecting the public, it’s about the Prime Minister scrambling to save his own skin,” Blackford said, adding that it was from a Government “paralysed by chaos and incompetence.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said lifting restrictions in England “flies in the face” of advice from many NHS leaders and health experts and will make vulnerable people more fearful.”

Telling people should take personal responsibility while taking away the means for people to do so through free tests was “utterly perverse”, Green said, warning that
for many clinically extremely vulnerable people it was not “freedom day” but instead a “day of profound loss of freedom”.

Johnson, who was believed to have brought forward his announcement because of internal pressure he faces over Downing Street parties, announced that the legal requirement to self-isolate for people who test positive for COVID-19 would be removed on February 24 while free universal testing would end on April 1.

“Restrictions pose a heavy toll on our economy, our society, our mental well being and on the life chances of our children, and we do not need to pay that cost any longer,” he argued.

“So let us learn to live with this virus and continue protecting ourselves and others without restricting our freedoms.”

Ending routine contact tracing also meant that fully vaccinated close contacts and those under 18 will be no longer required to test daily for seven days. Also being removed was the legal requirement for close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to self-isolate.

The most immediate removal is the guidance for staff and students in most education and childcare settings to undertake twice weekly asymptomatic testing but which education unions warned could result in chaos in schools in England and put school leaders in an impossible position.

As a sop to protect the most vulnerable, Johnson said he was accepting Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advice for a new Spring booster to be offered to those aged 75 and over, older care home residents, and those over 12 who are immunosuppressed.

[Photo: PM Boris Johnson announcing in Commons removing of Covid-19 restrictions on 21 February 2022. Photo:  ©UK Parliament/Roger Harris]

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