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Boris Johnson has announced plans to scrap remaining coronavirus restrictions, including those relating to self-isolation.
The prime minister's 'living with Covid' plan comes after the removal of previous rules such as mandatory face masks and the use of vaccine passes in larger venues last month.
Though experts have encouraged the PM to keep some measures in place, Johnson announced his intentions to revoke all regulations that restrict public freedoms in England today, February 21. Current rules were already set to come to an end on March 24, but the announcement brings the timeline forward by weeks.
From Thursday, February 24, the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive COVID test will be removed in England, with self-isolation payments also ending from this date. 'It is now time to move from protecting people with government interventions to vaccines and treatment as our first line of defence,' Johnson said.
'People will be asked to exercise personal responsibility just as we encourage people who may have flu to be considerate to others,' he continued.
From April 1, 'when winter is over and the virus will spread less easily, we will end free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public', the PM added, citing the £15.7 billion cost of testing. 'The test, trace and isolation budget exceeded the entire budget of the Home Office. We must scale that back,' he said.
Ongoing vaccine rollouts, frequent testing and new treatments are thought to be enough to keep the public safe, according to Johnson, and when widespread measures are lifted it will be down to local authorities to manage outbreaks with pre-existing public health powers.
The move comes in a bid to treat Covid in a similar manner to other existing infectious diseases, such as the flu.
Existing rules mean those who test positive for coronavirus must self-isolate for at least five days, if they are able to provide two negative tests at the end of the five days, or 10 days if they continue to test positive throughout the period.
When it comes to 'living with the virus', self-isolation will instead be down to the individual as those who test positive will be encouraged but not required to stay at home.
Johnson's announcement comes after he told BBC News 'now is the moment for everybody to get their confidence back' and that testing would be taking place at a 'much lower level'.
However, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association, has argued there was no reason to bring the lifting of restrictions forward and that the government should have waited until infections fell further.
Speaking to the BBC at the weekend, Nagpaul said: 'You have at the moment more people dying, more people in the hospital, than you had before Plan B [restrictions] was introduced.
The doctor described the end of the rules as a 'rather odd decision to make', adding: 'It does appear as if the government is trying to pretend that Covid doesn't exist in the day-to-day lives of so many people.'
Johnson said at the time he didn't want people to get 'completely the wrong idea' when it comes to the lifting of restrictions, stressing he was 'not saying you can totally throw caution to the winds', but people should be 'much more confident and get back to work.'