THE UK government is weighing up plans to cut the Covid-19 self-isolation period from seven days to five, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, as he prepares for coronavirus to move from pandemic to endemic in Britain.
In a pooled clip with broadcasters Monday, Johnson also paved the way for the end of free rapid Covid-19 tests, after senior minister Michael Gove told Sky News the UK was moving to a stage where it can “live with Covid-19”.
There are “early signs” of cases and hospital admissions starting to fall in England, Johnson’s spokesperson Max Blain told reporters in a regular briefing. He said that while it was “certainly our expectation” for Britain to ultimately move from pandemic to endemic, it was “too early to say” when this might happen.
The remarks show how the government is changing its approach to tackling Covid-19 as Johnson seeks to pivot focus to the priorities that won him the general election in 2019, including equalising opportunities around the country. The premier has relied on light-touch restrictions to manage the current surge in the virus, driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant, despite fears from some scientists and health leaders about the impact on the under-pressure National Health Service.
UK minister says Britain is moving beyond the pandemic
The premier has vowed to review the measures — including guidance to work from home and mandatory face coverings in indoor public spaces — by January 26, when they are due to expire. Reducing the isolation period to five days for people who test positive would ease staff shortages across businesses, schools and the NHS.
“We are looking at that and we will act according to the science,” Johnson told broadcasters. He said there were no immediate plans to axe free lateral flow tests which will be provided “as long as they’re very important”.
Some 141,472 Covid-19 cases were reported in the UK on Sunday, down from 161,252 the previous week. NHS England figures show 16,399 hospital beds were occupied by patients with the virus on Sunday, with 704 of them requiring mechanical ventilation.
Gove, who is responsible for Johnson’s “levelling up” agenda, warned of “difficult weeks ahead” but said the UK “can look to the progressive lifting of restrictions and, I think for all of us, the sooner the better.”
“We’re not there yet, but we are moving to a situation where it is possible to say that we can live with Covid-19, and that the pressure on the NHS and on vital public services is abating,” Gove told Sky News.
His comments followed a similar message from cabinet colleague Nadhim Zahawi who told Sky on Sunday that he hoped the UK would be “one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic.”