Amidst increasing calls from both inside and outside his party to resign, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday announced that COVID restrictions in England are to be lifted. The decision came after he had been called to let go of his role over repeated violations of COVID restrictions, including parties held at his home and office.
According to Politico, Johnson announced on Wednesday in front of MPs that the government had "got the big things right" in its COVID response and that the number of new cases in the region had already peaked. He remarked, "Our scientists believe it is likely that the Omicron wave has now peaked nationally."
The British leader said that beginning next Thursday, "Plan B" restrictions that were introduced in England to curb the rise of new COVID cases brought about by the Omicron variant will no longer be enforced, the Washington Post reported. This includes wearing masks, working from home, and the use of COVID passports. He added that the legal requirement for those who test positive for COVID is to self-quarantine, which was cut down from seven days to five days, will no longer be in effect after March 24. Johnson also expressed a desire to bring the date forward.
"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 judgment of the British people and no longer criminalize anyone who chooses not to wear one," Johnson announced, as per The Gateway Pundit.
"There will soon come a time when we can remove the legal requirement to self-isolate altogether, just as we don't place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu," the British Prime Minister explained further. Johnson added that as COVID becomes endemic, legal requirements will be replaced with advice and guidance. Those who do test positive will only be "[urged]...to be careful and considerate of others."
Johnson's move was signed off by the Cabinet amidst increasing pressure from the Conservative Party following allegations that the Prime Minister attended parties while the rest of England was ordered to stay at home to curb the spread of COVID. But the National Health Service (NHS) has warned against the premature lifting of COVID restrictions in the country.
The NHS Confederation's chief executive Matthew Taylor said it was "not the time for complacency about this virus" and pointed to the decision as a "trade-off." Taylor argued, "We will have greater freedoms but the cost - at least in the short term - will be that more people are likely to get sick with COVID, and that the health service will continue to have to deal with the extra burdens that this creates."
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that Johnson's announcement was a "major milestone" for England but cautioned that it is "not the end of the road" for them as a nation facing the COVID pandemic.