LONDON – The British government confirmed on Saturday that people with COVID-19 will not be legally obliged to isolate themselves, starting next week, as part of the plan “life with COVID”, which is also likely to be tested on coronavirus shrunk.
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson said that the abolition of all legal restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus will allow people in the UK to “defend themselves without restricting our freedoms.”
But some government scientific advisers have said it is a risky move that could lead to an outbreak of infections and weaken the country’s defenses against more harmful strains in the future.
Johnson’s Conservative government lifted most of the restrictions on viruses in January, the withdrawal of vaccine passports for venues and the termination of mandates for masks in most localities except hospitals in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also opened up, albeit more slowly.
The combination of high levels of vaccination in the UK and a milder version of omicron means that easing restrictions has not led to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths. Both are falling, although the UK still has the highest number of coronaviruses in Europe after Russia, where more than 160,000 deaths have been recorded.
In Britain, 85% of people over the age of 12 received two doses of the vaccine and almost two-thirds received the third vaccination.
Now the Conservative government says it will remove “all other COVID internal rules restricting civil liberties” as part of a “departure from government intervention to personal responsibility.”
The legal requirement to isolate for at least five days after a positive COVID-19 test will be replaced by recommended measures, and the coronavirus will be considered more like the flu if it becomes endemic.
The new plan envisions vaccines and treatments that keep the virus under control, although the government has said “surveillance systems and emergency measures will be maintained” if necessary.
“COVID will not disappear suddenly, and we must learn to live with the virus and continue to defend ourselves without restricting our freedoms,” said Johnson, who is expected to voice details of the plan Monday in parliament.
“Over the past two years, we have developed strong protection against this virus through the deployment of vaccines, tests, new treatments and a better scientific understanding of what this virus can do,” he said.
The announcement will appeal to many Conservative lawmakers who argue that the restrictions were ineffective and disproportionate. It could also strengthen Johnson’s position among party lawmakers who have considered trying to oust power through scandals, including government parties violating the blockade regime during the pandemic.
But scientists have stressed that much remains unknown about the virus, as well as about future options that may be more severe than the currently dominant strain of omicron.
An advisory group on new and new viral threats, advising the government, said last week that the idea that viruses are gradually becoming softer “is a common misconception”. It says the milder disease associated with omicron is “probably accidental,” and future options may be more severe or avoid current vaccines.
Epidemic model developers, who are advising the government, have also warned that “sudden changes, such as cessation of testing and isolation, could lead to a return to rapid epidemic growth” if people are careful.
Scientists have also warned against abandoning free rapid tests for the coronavirus, which spread to millions during the pandemic. Health officials say mass testing has played an important role in slowing the spread of the virus.
Researchers are also concerned that the government may stop the Infection Survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics, which is considered invaluable because it checks people for symptoms.
“It’s not time to take a risk,” said Matthew Taylor, executive director of the NHS Confederation, an umbrella group of state-funded UK health authorities. “We need to act on evidence and gradually.”
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