British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has hailed a new post-Covid era today as he declared that self-isolation laws are being axed from Thursday and free COVID-19 tests will go from April.
In a dramatic statement to MPs, the PM confirmed that people with the virus will no longer be compelled to stay at home in England – although they will be advised to avoid spreading the disease in the same way as with flu.
From March 24 more generous state sick pay provisions are being downgraded, so people will no longer be eligible from day one.
And from April 1 free lateral flow and PCR testing – which has been costing the taxpayer £2 billion a month – is being abandoned, except for very limited supplies for the elderly and very vulnerable. Details of who gets them will be decided later by the UK Health Security Agency.
Instead, the government is set to focus on monitoring the development of the virus, with surveillance programmes to keep watch for emerging variants. The testing infrastructure will be kept ready so it can be ‘stood up’ quickly if there is a serious threat.
Ministers hope that when people have to buy tests themselves the costs per individual kit will be in the ‘low single figures’.
Johnson told the House that the pandemic ‘hasn’t gone away’, sending the Queen his best wishes after her positive diagnosis.
But he said the country is past the peak of the Omicron wave and must start ‘protecting ourselves without losing our liberties’.
He said the cost of the ‘colossal’ testing infrastructure was ‘vast’, pointing out it had been more than the Home Office budget in 2020-21.
The blueprint emerged after the PM and Chancellor Rishi Sunak blocked a bid by Health Secretary Sajid Javid for more funding to maintain testing capacity and a slower timetable for ending the arrangements.