People in England will no longer have to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus by the end of next week, Downing Street has said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce the decision on Monday, which also applies to close contacts, as he moves to scrap all remaining COVID-19 restrictions.
When he unveils his “living with COVID” plan, he is expected to tell MPs that the vaccine programme, testing and new treatments will be enough to keep the public safe.
There are reports that the provision of free home-delivered lateral flow tests could also end, but this has yet to be confirmed.
‘We need to learn to live with the virus’
Ahead of the announcement, Mr Johnson said: “COVID will not suddenly disappear, and we need to learn to live with this virus and continue to protect ourselves without restricting our freedoms.
“We’ve built up strong protections against this virus over the past two years through the vaccine rollouts, tests, new treatments, and the best scientific understanding of what this virus can do.
“Thanks to our successful vaccination programme and the sheer magnitude of people who have come forward to be jabbed we are now in a position to set out our plan for living with COVID.”
Asked if the change would mean people could go to work if they had COVID, the PM’s official spokesman previously said “there would be guidance, that would not be what we are recommending”.
Local authorities will have to manage outbreaks using pre-existing public health powers – the same as for other diseases.
‘Surveillance systems’ to be retained
England will keep “surveillance systems and contingency measures” which will be used “if needed” – such as increased testing capacity or vaccine programmes – to respond to new variants, No 10 said.
Vaccines and other pharmaceutical interventions will be retained as the “first line of defence”.
More than 48 million Britons have had two doses of a COVID-19 jab – about 85% of the population – while more than 37 million have had boosters.
No 10 said this means “government intervention in people’s lives can now finally end”.
There were reports that state-funded infection sampling could be scrapped but Downing Street appeared to keep the door open to those studies in its pledge to maintain “resilience against future variants with ongoing surveillance capabilities”.
A ‘premature’ decision
Three quarters of NHS leaders in England disagree with scrapping self-isolation, according to a survey by the NHS Confederation.
Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on COVID-19, did not support the move either.
“I appreciate their concerns about absenteeism… but at the same time, what we know about this virus is that it is not good for people and simply just treating it as though it is a harmless virus we think – that’s myself and colleagues in the World Health Organisation – we think that’s unwise,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
ANALYSIS BY KATE MCCANN, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT
The plan to end all legal COVID restrictions marks a key moment not just for everyone in England but for Boris Johnson’s premiership too.
It puts the country at the forefront of learning to live with the disease which has wrought havoc on the world for the last couple of years.
Some say it is a dangerous move, with the potential for future variants and waning immunity storing up problems for months down the line.
But the mood of the country has shifted and, in general, most people are already getting on with life as it used to be.
For them this is a bold step and one long overdue.
Masks have largely been abandoned, eating out and staying with friends and family feels normal again, booking foreign holidays doesn’t feel like you’re risking hundreds of pounds.
But for those who are immune-suppressed or who look after frail or elderly family and friends it is a different story.
They have long been more concerned about mixing in public spaces because the chance of COVID being a simple cold, so mild it is almost missed, is much slimmer for them.
Cancer patients whose immunity is wiped out by chemotherapy and those who are unable to take the vaccine still live in fear of catching the disease.
Even for those who are vaccinated and boosted the symptoms can sometimes be serious.
There are, as yet, no special plans to account for these people when restrictions are lifted.
The prime minister hopes that those who contract COVID will keep themselves away from others and there are now better treatments for COVID.
But in reality some may not.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association, said the decision is “premature” and “not based on current evidence”.
“It clearly hasn’t been guided by data or done in consultation with the healthcare profession,” he said.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting called on the government to publish the evidence behind the decision so the public “can have faith that it is being made in the national interest”.
“Boris Johnson is declaring victory before the war is over, in an attempt to distract from the police knocking at his door,” he said, referring to the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into apparent lockdown-busting parties held in Downing Street and across Whitehall.