As Boris Johnson’s premiership unravels following the backlash from the ‘partygate’ revelations of illicit Downing Street lockdown shindigs, the Prime Minister has announced not only the end of Plan B measures from January 26th – including vaccine passports, work-from-home guidance and face masks – but his intention to end the remaining measures as well. He told the Commons:
Today’s latest ONS data show clearly that infection levels are falling in England and while there are some places where cases are likely to continue rising, including in primary schools, our scientists believe it is likely that the omicron wave has now peaked nationally.
There remain, of course, significant pressures on the NHS across our country, and especially in the North East and North West, but hospital admissions which were doubling every nine days just two weeks ago have now stabilised, with admissions in London even falling. The numbers in intensive care not only remain low but are actually also falling.
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.
Announcing the end of work-from-home guidance with immediate effect, he said: “People should speak to their employers about arrangements for returning to the office.”
He also said that face masks would no longer be mandated in classrooms from tomorrow, or anywhere else after Plan B measures lapse:
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.
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 spaces, particularly when 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.
He also signalled his intention to end the legal requirement to self-isolate, including bringing forward the current expiry date from March 24th:
The self-isolation regulations expire on March 24th, at which point I very much expect not to renew them. Indeed, were the data to allow, I’d like to seek a vote in this House to bring that date forward. 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.
He added that restrictions on visits to care homes will be eased, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid setting out plans “in the coming days”.
The ONS brought out its latest infection survey data early today, showing a sharp drop in coronavirus prevalence in the U.K. last week, as already seen in the falling reported infection numbers.
It’s not all good news, though. Asked by Conservative MP Dr. Andrew Murrison whether given leaked advice to ministers that the NHS vaccine mandate “is neither rational nor proportionate”, would he “think again before redundancy letters start going out as from February 3rd”, the Prime Minister reiterated his support for the policy:
The arguments have been made well made by colleagues across the House today. I just remind him this is something that is supported by the NHS themselves for patient safety. It is a very difficult point when it comes to patients who have contracted fatal Covid. People do want their medical staff to be vaccinated. I would just repeat what I have said throughout the afternoon, I do think it is the responsibility of all healthcare professionals to be vaccinated.
The fight goes on. There’s also the question of who might replace Boris should the current plot to oust him succeed, with a worry that someone even more keen on restrictions might end up in the top job.