All Covid regulations, including the requirement to isolate after testing positive, are due to be abolished in England in two weeks, Boris Johnson has announced.
The prime minister moved the plan forward by a month, saying the change “shows that the hard work of the British people is paying off”. It sets England on a different course from many countries that continue to enforce quarantine with penalties and fines even while relaxing other rules.
Some scientists warned that Johnson risked sending a signal that the pandemic is “all over”, while unions said he was “going too far, way too soon” in aiming to end all domestic rules in England from Thursday 24 February. Charities said it could leave clinically vulnerable people exposed.
Downing Street will set out guidance but confirmed people would be advised to avoid going to work if they tested positive for Covid – though without the current legal obligation and possible fines. Currently, those who have the virus can leave their homes after negative rapid test results on days five and six of the isolation period.
In a sign that the prime minister still faces pressure from inside his party, lockdown-sceptic Conservatives demanded he go further, calling for a guarantee of no future restrictions and changes to public health laws to generate “competitive” scientific advice in future pandemics.
Downing Street had signalled last month that it planned to drop all remaining legal constraints when the relevant regulations expire on 24 March. But in a surprise announcement to the Commons on Wednesday, Johnson hastened the timetable.
The plan was to “present our strategy for living with Covid” on 21 February, Johnson said, bringing cheers from many of his MPs just before prime minister’s questions.
If “the current encouraging trends in the data continue”, Johnson added, he would confirm the end of all domestic regulations, with the change formally beginning later that week. Some travel restrictions, such as passenger locator forms and quarantine for unvaccinated people, are likely to continue.
“Obviously in the same way [as for] someone with flu, we wouldn’t recommend they go to work, we would never recommend anyone goes to work when they have an infectious disease,” Johnson’s spokesperson said. Free Covid testing will continue for now, though it is expected to be scrapped at some point.