LONDON (REUTERS) – After an uncomfortable but relatively brief return to coronavirus restrictions triggered by the Omicron variant, England is going back to “Plan A” – learning to live with a disease that is probably here to stay.
The bet is that booster jabs, antiviral pills and Omicron’s lower severity will enable the government to manage outbreaks of a virus that cannot be shut out. Other countries equally keen to unshackle business and personal freedom will be watching.
Work-from-home guidance ended last week, and measures such as mask mandates and Covid-19 passes, also introduced in England last month, lapsed on Thursday (Jan 27), returning the rules to where they were last July.
The UK Health Security Agency is preparing to switch focus to supporting vulnerable individuals rather than imposing national rules, according to a draft policy seen by Reuters.
“As we evolve to move to living with Covid, UKHSA’s Covid-19 response will move from a whole nation approach to a targeted response, focused on protecting the vulnerable”, read the paper, titled “UKHSA Covid-19 Vision – Draft”.
“We will ensure that our future response is more streamlined, flexible, and convenient for citizens and delivers value for money.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has presided over a death toll of 150,000 that ranks seventh in the world, was forced in December to introduce the “Plan B” restrictions, angering some of his own lawmakers. He now has a strong political imperative to scrap them.
As police investigate gatherings at his offices during Covid-19 lockdowns, in apparent violation of laws he had himself imposed, he faces the biggest crisis of his career, while many of his members of parliament are determined that he must return life to near-normal.
Conservative lawmaker Andrew Bridgen told Reuters that further Covid-19 restrictions were “unlikely, unnecessary and politically impossible”.
Mr Johnson himself told lawmakers last week: “As Covid becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance.”
He also said he would let the law that obliges people with Covid-19 to self-isolate lapse in March, and even look to bring that date forward.
Much of his confidence stems from the nature of Omicron, which drove infections to record levels in December without increasing hospitalisations and deaths to the same extent.