By John Ikani
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scrapping the last domestic Covid-19 restrictions in England, including the requirement for people with COVID-19 to self-isolate.
Johnson told lawmakers in the House of Commons that the country was “moving from Government restrictions to personal responsibility” as part of a plan for treating COVID-19 like other transmissible illnesses such as flu.
He said it marked an end to “two of the darkest, grimmest years in our peacetime history.”
“Today is not the day we can declare victory over COVID, because this virus is not going away,” Johnson said at a televised news conference. “But it is the day when all the efforts of the last two years finally enabled us to protect ourselves whilst restoring our liberties in full.”
Johnson confirmed that mandatory self-isolation for people with COVID-19 will end starting Thursday and the routine tracing of infected people’s contacts will stop. People will still be advised to stay home if they are sick — but will no longer get extra financial support.
The decision announced Monday, ignited scepticism from some scientists and political opponents.
Monday’s announcement applies only to England, which is home to 56 million of the U.K.’s 67 million people. It leaves England with fewer restrictions than most other European countries, with the exception of Denmark.
Johnson’s “living with COVID” plan has sparked alarm that it is premature and will leave the country vulnerable to new viral variants.
But the government countered it has provided more testing than most other countries, and must now curb the cost.
The plan to ditch the remaining legal restrictions is a priority for many of Johnson’s Conservative Party lawmakers, whose discontent over his scandal-ridden leadership has threatened his grip on power.
Some critics think the plan is also a bid to divert attention from those scandals.
Britain has reported 160,000 deaths from COVID-19, the seventh-highest death toll in the world.
As Hong Kong builds isolation units and Europe retains social distancing and vaccine rules, Johnson is moving to repeal any pandemic requirements that impinge on personal freedoms, saying it is time the public took responsibility.
He will lean even more on the rollout of booster vaccines, with the government offering extra booster doses to the most vulnerable, as well as other pharmaceuticals interventions such as antiviral treatments.
“Restrictions pose a heavy toll on our economy, our society, our mental wellbeing and on the life chances of our children, and we do not need to pay that cost any longer,” Johnson told parliament.