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Covid isolation laws set to end in England

Covid isolation laws set to end in England

By Harriet Agerholm

The legal requirement to self-isolate after catching Covid in England is expected to be dropped from next week – as part of a “living with Covid” plan.

All remaining virus restrictions in the country are set to end in the coming days, Downing Street said.

Currently, positive or symptomatic people must isolate for up to 10 days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the vaccine had changed the outlook, but Labour warned against “declaring victory before the war is over”.

Some scientists and charities helping vulnerable people have also expressed concern at plans to lift restrictions while Covid infections are widespread.

Mr Johnson said the decision could be taken as a result of “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”.

He said the UK was in a position to set out a plan for living with Covid “thanks to our successful vaccination programme and the sheer magnitude of people who have come forward to be jabbed”.

Current coronavirus laws were due to expire on 24 March, but the PM had already suggested during a session of Prime Minister’s Questions on 9 February that all remaining measures could end in England this month instead if the data remained encouraging.

Infections across the UK are hovering around three million, according to estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), down from a peak last month of over four million.

About one in 20 people in England had the infection in the week ending 12 February, according to the ONS.

About 91% of people in the UK aged 12 and over have had a first dose of the vaccine, 85% a second jab, and 66% a booster or a third dose.

As part of the planned lifting of restrictions next week, local authorities in England would become responsible for managing outbreaks using pre-existing powers.

Community PCR testing, aimed at people with symptoms, was expected to stop under the new plan, although it remains unclear whether the distribution of lateral flow tests will be scaled back.

It comes after Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said on Thursday ending free lateral flow tests was “the direction of travel”.

The potential move was criticised by Wales’s health minister, who said “England alone” cannot decide to stop distributing the tests.

The ONS infection survey, which randomly tests a sample of the population, is also expected to be replaced with a slimmed down surveillance programme.