Boris Johnson this week in the House of Commons announced his plans for living with Covid with all remaining restrictions coming to an end.
In his opening statement the PM sent his condolences to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen is currently self-isolating due to testing positive for Covid-19 this week. However, in his next sentence he says, ‘it’s a reminder that Covid hasn’t gone away’. Some would argue that he may have slightly contradicted himself by saying Covid is still with us but proceeding to go ahead with abandoning remaining restrictions.
The PM also announced his plans to end free testing from the beginning of April and that people who have tested positive will now no longer be applicable for the £500 Test and Trace Support scheme which will affect the hardest hit of society.
The UK was the first major European nation to vaccinate over half of the population and due to the success of that the PM sees that as a legitimate reason to go ahead and lift all restrictions ahead of schedule he said to fellow MP’s.
Mr Johnson also told the house that because the UK is past the peak of the omicron variant, we can move forward. As of February 13, the number of deaths has been relatively stable with around 100 per day for the best part of the month and around 37,000 daily cases as part of the rolling 7-day average.
There are two types of people on one hand there are still cautious about covid and want some restrictions kept in place such as the self-isolation laws and the continuing of free lateral flow tests which end on April 1, and there are people who would prefer to forget covid ever existed and move on with our lives and welcome any last restrictions in place to be gone.
The Prime Minister’s Health Chief’s appeared to be on the side of caution. During a televised press conference held by Johnson on Monday night, Sir Patrick Vallance and Sir Chris Whitty both warned the country that we are not out of the pandemic yet. Professor Whitty reckons new variants could be on the way this year and claims they could be more severe than anything we have seen leading to more hospitalisations.
“Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance Covid-19 Briefing” by UK Prime Minister is licensed under
Labour Leader, Sir Keir Starmer has questioned this approach from the Government claiming not enough has been done to prepare the UK for any new variants that may develop further down the line and living with covid is as good as ignoring it. The opposition leader can’t understand why the PM chose to abandon free Lateral Flo tests at this stage of the pandemic. However, did say they ‘free tests can’t carry on forever’.
Starmer has also asked the Prime Minister to make the Scientific data public which led to his decision on cutting the self-isolation period.
As it stands taxpayers of all four nations contribute to the cost of testing. However, there is no guarantee that treasury funding will be handed out to continue free testing in devolved nations from April onwards much to the anger of Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon who like Keir Starmer stressed her frustration at the Prime Minister’s decision.
There is an element of risk that comes with the ending of free tests that people may just stop testing or that the hardest hit families in England may not be able to afford testing especially during the cost-of-living crisis. This is one of the possible risks that could lead to a spike in cases; people who are infectious may not know if they are not testing and will be unclear if they should isolate.
It now remains to be seen whether completely relaxing all restrictions will spike a surge in cases or numbers will continue to fall with the help of the vaccine rollout and the additional booster.