Boris Johnson Signals End of all Covid Measures to Combat Omicron in UK

21 Jan, 2022 15:00 IST|Sakshi Post

In England, all Plan B COVID limitations, including mask-wearing, will be lifted.

Plan B measures will end on January 26th, while mandatory self-isolation for those using Covid will end on March 24th, according to the PM.

As England returns to plan A, working from home and requiring mask laws will be phased out.

New Delhi: From next week, Boris Johnson has declared that all COVID measures launched to combat the Omicron form – mandatory mask-wearing on public transportation and in shops, work-from-home instructions, and immunisation certificates – will be phased out.

The prime minister also told the House of Commons that the legal necessity for patients with coronavirus to self-isolate will be allowed to expire when the laws expire on March 24 and that date may be moved up.

To the delight of some conservatives, Johnson announced that high school students will no longer be required to wear masks.

While Johnson's comments would appease some of his backbenchers, they have alarmed teachers and health-care unions, as well as NHS and public-health officials.

Keir Starmer, speaking for Labour, said he would accept the reform if it was backed up by evidence, adding that Johnson must "reassure the public that he is trying to defend their health, not just his job."

The prime minister told MPs the COVID data "shows that this government got the toughest decisions right time and time again" and that the plan B rules imposed in December might be repealed as early as next Thursday, the day after a pre-existing review point.

Although it was expected that Johnson would announce the end of work-from-home instructions and the requirement to provide a certificate demonstrating vaccination or a recent negative COVID test to attend some locations, some may be surprised to see that the mandatory mask requirements have been lifted immediately.

"From tomorrow we will no longer require face masks in classrooms and the Department of Education will shortly remove national guidance on their use in communal areas," Johnson told the Commons.

"In the country at large, we will continue to suggest the use of face coverings in enclosed or crowded spaces, particularly when you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet, but we will trust the judgement of the British people and no longer criminalise anyone who chooses not to wear one."

Also Read: 30pc of Vaccinated People Lose Immunity 6 Months After Jab, Shows Study

Labour "does not want to see limits in place any longer than necessary," Starmer said in response to the announcement. Labour leader Ed Miliband said he would support the relaxation "as long as science indicates it's safe."

Teaching unions highlighted their displeasure with the abrupt move, stressing that many headteachers in England were still experiencing severe educational disruption as a result of Covid.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: "While the trend amongst secondary aged children is down, it is uncertain, due to the short time schools have been back since the Christmas holidays, that this trend will continue. Such uncertainty could lead to a pronounced risk of increased disruption with children and staff having to isolate themselves."

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, warned that nearly 20,000 COVID-19 patients were still in hospitals "at a time when the NHS is already stretched to breaking point and contending with the toughest winter on record," and that some regions were still seeing increased infection numbers.

Ministers would "regret delivering the wrong signal to the public for political expediency," according to Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.

Unison, the UK's largest health union, warned that abandoning plan B "all at once" could jeopardise previous gains. "Rather than allowing a free-for-all, ministers should be urging caution and encouraging continued mask-wearing on transport, in public places, and in schools, where it can still make a real difference," said Christina McAnea, the union's general secretary.

A public health director in a city in the north of England expressed alarm over the move. "This feels like more of a political decision than a decision based on the evidence and the science, and it could be quite London-centric," they said.

"We’re seeing a reduction in cases, but they’re still incredibly high. Taking out all these measures does feel risky. And if our focus is keeping kids in schools as much as possible, this may result in more disruption to education. I worry that the decision has not been made for the right reasons."

Covid limitations, as part of health policy, are a devolved topic, hence the amendments only apply to England.

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