People who test positive for coronavirus will no longer be legally required to isolate from Thursday, and free universal testing will end in April under Boris Johnson’s plan for “living with Covid”.
The Prime Minister detailed the strategy for England to the Commons late on Monday afternoon after a Cabinet disagreement thought to centre on funding for future surveillance of the virus.
Those who receive a positive Covid-19 test will still be advised to stay at home for at least five days, but will not be obliged to under law under the plans subject to parliamentary approval.
Routine contact tracing will also end on Thursday, as will self-isolation payments and the legal obligation for individuals to tell their employers about their requirement to isolate.
Changes to statutory sick pay and employment support allowance designed to help people through the coronavirus pandemic will end on March 24.
People aged 75 and over, the immunosuppressed and those living in care homes will be offered another Covid-19 booster vaccine this spring under the plans.
But free universal testing will be massively scaled back from April 1 and will instead be focused on the most vulnerable, with the UK Health Security Agency set to determine the details, while a degree of asymptomatic testing will continue in the most risky settings such as in social care.
But the Department of Health and Social Care will receive no extra money to deliver the testing.
‘Pandemic is not over’
Mr Johnson warned the “pandemic is not over”, with the Queen’s positive test a “reminder this virus has not gone away”.
But he told MPs it was time to “move from Government restrictions to personal responsibility”, with “sufficient levels of immunity to complete the transition” from laws to relying on vaccines and treatments.
“It is time that we got our confidence back. We don’t need laws to compel people to be considerate to others. We can rely on that sense of responsibility towards one another,” Mr Johnson said.
“So let us learn to live with this virus and continue protecting ourselves and others without restricting our freedoms.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Free tests can’t continue forever, but if you’re 2-1 up with 10 minutes to go you don’t sub off one of your best defenders.”
He told the Commons: “All we’ve got today is yet more chaos and disarray. Not enough to prepare us for the new variants which may yet develop. An approach which seems to think that living with Covid means simply ignoring it.
“This morning he couldn’t even persuade his own Health Secretary to agree the plan. So what confidence can the public have that this is the right approach?”