British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the end of COVID-19 measures introduced to curb the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in England as he looks to live with the virus after a peak in cases. Britain was the first country to limit international travel over the Omicron variant, raising alarm bells about its mutations, and in December introduced work-at-home advice, more mask-wearing and vaccine passes to slow its spread. But while cases soared to record highs, hospitalizations and deaths have not risen by the same extent, in part due to Britain’s booster rollout and the variant’s lesser severity.
The bulk of the changes will take effect late next week, U.K. media outlets reported.
Johnson has faced criticism for his handling of the pandemic overall, and Britain has reported 152,513 deaths, the seventh-highest total globally. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have followed their own anti-coronavirus measures, generally with tougher restrictions, but have also begun to ease them. Chris Hopson, the chief executive of the National Health Service providers, told BBC 4 that the NHS is still facing, “very, very significant pressure.” Hopson told the broadcaster that even while new case numbers are falling quickly, hospital numbers will be slower to come down.
PM under scrutiny
The prime minister hopes to reset his agenda following furor over the lockdown gatherings at his office, which has some in his party plotting to remove him. The lifting of Plan B measures, along with Johnson’s navigation of Omicron without resorting to a stringent lockdown, could help him appease vocal opponents of restrictions in his own caucus amid the party unrest.
He said that if data supported it, he may end the legal requirement for people to self-isolate if they test positive before the regulation lapses in March. “But to make that possible, we must all remain cautious during these last weeks of winter,” he said, warning of continued pressure on hospitals. “The pandemic is not over.”
“The idea was by really trying to put a lot of impetus on the booster program, it would be possible to ride it out without the most coercive methods,” Professor Francois Balloux, of University College London’s Genetics Institute, told Reuters. “In terms of morbidity and mortality, I think it could be seen as probably the right decision.”