Don't Throw Caution To The Wind, Boris Johnson Says Ahead Of Covid Curbs Easing

The prime minister is expected to the repeal the vast bulk of Covid restrictions in England from Monday.
The legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid-19 is set to be scrapped from next week.
The legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid-19 is set to be scrapped from next week.
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Boris Johnson has said the public should feel “confident” about going back to work when Covid curbs ease, but not “throw caution to the winds”.

The prime minister said it was time to shift the balance away from “state mandation” and towards personal responsibility as the UK recovered from the worst of the pandemic.

He made the comments ahead of an announcement on Monday in which he is expected to the repeal the vast bulk of Covid restrictions in England.

Among the most significant is the legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid-19, which is set to be ditched from next week as part of the government’s “living with Covid” strategy.

Currently, those who have tested positive or have symptoms of the virus must self-isolate for up to 10 days.

The move has been criticised by the Labour party, which accused Johnson of “declaring victory before the war is over”.

But in an interview with the BBC, Johnson said the country had “reached a stage” where government interventions should be replaced by personal choice.

“I’m not saying that we should throw caution to the winds, but now is the moment for everybody to get their confidence back,” he told the Sunday Morning programme.

“We have reached a stage where we think you can shift the balance away from state mandation, away from banning certain courses of action, and compelling certain courses of action, in favour of encouraging personal responsibility.”

He added: “I think it’s very important we should remain careful.

“We’re certainly not asking people to throw caution to the winds. Covid remains a dangerous disease, particularly if you haven’t been vaccinated.”

Johnson also refused to rule out reintroducing restrictions in the face of a new variant in future, saying: “You’ve got to be humble in the face of nature.”

And he said that that the UK could not continue £2 billion a month on testing but that it would continue at a “much lower level”.

“As the number of cases diminishes and certainly the number of patients in hospital is thankfully coming down now, the number of cases in ICU is certainly way, way down, we’re in a different world,” he said.

“I want to make sure that we have capability to spot stuff and to snap back up as fast as we need to.

“We need resilience but we don’t need to keep, for instance on testing, we don’t need to keep spending at a rate of £2 billion a month, which is what we were doing in January.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he was “particularly concerned” about phasing out free lateral flow tests.

“It’s a bit like being to one up with 10 minutes left to play and subbing your best defender,” he told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips.

“We are not out of the woods yet on Covid. It’s important that when the government publishes its plan for living with Covid tomorrow that is a robust plan that enables everyone to live well with Covid.

“Access to free testing right now, given the prevalence of the virus, given the fact we’re still asking people to isolate at home if they have the virus if they’re infectious, is a really critical tool.

“Acting on sick pay would also make an enormous difference.”

Streeting’s concerns were also echoed by a number of medical experts.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the Council of the British Medical Association, said the requirement to self-isolate should only be dropped when case rates are falling.

“I think the right time is when the first leap of faith is supported,” he told the BBC.

“You have at the moment more people dying, more people in the hospital, than you had before plan B was introduced.

“It seems a rather odd decision to make.”

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), which advises the government, said he believed restrictions would have to ease at some point but that the “concern now is that we still have relatively high cases”.

“The concern, of course, is with removing testing, removing self-isolation, that may cause quite a big change in behaviour.”

On Friday papers released from he Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned that England could see a “rapid” growth in Covid cases if self-isolation rules and free tests are scrapped next week as planned.

“Warwick’s analysis indicates that, while behaviour change following the lifting of restrictions has previously been gradual, a sudden change, such as an end to testing and isolation, has the scope to lead to a return to rapid epidemic growth,” the scientists said.

It added that there was the potential for transmission to increase “by between around 25% to 80%” if the population returned to pre-pandemic behaviours with no mitigations.


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