In stark contrast to places like Hong Kong, which continues to go to great lengths to control the spread of COVID (see here, here, and here), the UK's Prime Minister Boris Johnson today announced their intent to rapidly move from Plan B COVID restrictions to Plan A - and ultimately, to no restrictions.
This is obviously a big gamble, since there are no guarantees that Omicron is COVID's last hurrah.
While citing a recent drop in new COVID cases, and a plateauing of deaths and hospitalizations (see chart above) as reasons for these changes, declaring `victory' over the pandemic undoubtedly has political appeal for the embattled PM (see Tory donor urges Boris Johnson to resign amid No 10 party scandals).
The COVID pandemic threat will eventually recede into something less impactful, and we'll eventually have to learn how to `live with' the virus. But whether that time is now, is debatable.
I've posted excerpts from the PM's announcement to the House of Commons below. Follow the link to read it in its entirety. After which you'll find a link to a mixed bag of Expert Reactions on the Science Media Centre website.
I've have a brief postscript after the break.
So this morning, the Cabinet concluded that because of the extraordinary booster campaign together with the way the public have responded to the Plan B measures - we can return to Plan A in England and allow Plan B regulations to expire.
As a result, from the start of Thursday next week mandatory certification will end.
Organisations can, of course, choose to use the NHS Covid Pass voluntarily but we will end the compulsory use of Covid status certification in England.
From now, the government is no longer asking people to work from home and people should now speak to their employers about arrangements for returning to the office.
And having looked at the data carefully, the Cabinet concluded that once regulations lapse, the government will no longer mandate the wearing of face masks anywhere.
Mr Speaker, from tomorrow, we will no longer require face masks in classrooms, and the Department for Education will shortly remove national guidance on their use in communal areas.
In the country at large, we will continue to suggest the use of face coverings in enclosed or crowded places, particularly where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet.
But we will trust the judgement of the British people and no longer criminalise anyone who chooses not to wear one.
The government will also ease further restrictions on visits to care homes and my Rt Hon Friend, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, will set out plans in the coming days.
Mr Speaker, as we return to Plan A, the House will know that some measures still remain, including those on self-isolation.
In particular, it is still a legal requirement for those who have tested positive for Covid to self-isolate.
On Monday we reduced the isolation period to five full days with two negative tests.
And there will soon come a time when we can remove the legal requirement to self-isolate altogether - just as we don’t place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu.
As Covid becomes endemic we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others.
The self-isolation regulations expire on 24th March, at which point I very much expect not to renew them.
(Continue . . . )
JANUARY 19, 2022
As tired as I am of dealing with this pandemic - and as badly as we need to start preparing for the next global health crisis - every time the experts have declared that victory was in sight, the virus has made other plans.
Vaccines, rolled out in early December of 2020, were supposed to free us from the pandemic in a matter of months. That was delayed by the emergence of the Alpha variant, and when that variant began to wane in the spring of 2021, an even stronger Delta virus emerged to take its place.
Delta was supposed to burn itself out this winter, but by late last summer we learned the COVID vaccines that performed so well a year ago were losing effectiveness, and this fall Delta was once again on the ascendent.
And now we have Omicron, which has further degraded the vaccine's effectiveness while spreading around the world at a phenomenal rate. The optimistic mantra that it is `milder' - at least for those who are vaccinated - is likely true, but it is still far from benign.While I hope Omicron be COVID's last big wave before becoming an endemic, seasonal virus, that's an assumption currently based more on hope, and fatigue, than on science.