Unions are digging their heels in and scientists have voiced their concerns after Boris Johnson announced that all remaining Covid laws including the requirement to self-isolate would be scrapped within a fortnight. Free testing is also set to be phased out as the country learns to live with Covid and treat it like flu.
The resistance comes as a poll finds that three quarters of the public want self-isolation rules to continue, half say forever, while just 17% support the move. MailOnline has the story.
Unison, Britain’s largest union serving more than 1.3million members from swathes of the public sector, has accused the Prime Minister of going “too far, too soon”, insisting that the virus “hasn’t disappeared” – despite a raft of data suggesting the worst is now over.
SAGE scientists have also warned of the “dangers” of the PM’s plan to make England the first country in the world to scrap all Covid rules, after it emerged Mr. Johnson had not discussed it with the committee which is now infamous for its gloomy predictions about the pandemic.
And business leaders desperate to get staff back into largely-empty offices costing them a fortune admit they are struggling to compel people to return because workers are now so used to working from home.
This has been compounded by a new YouGov poll of nearly 4,500 Britons that shows three-quarters of people believe the self-isolation requirement after a positive Covid test should remain in place. Half of people questioned admitted they want the legal requirement to stay in place forever.
Christina McAnea, general secretary of the public sector union UNISON, said: “Everybody wants to get back to normal, but Covid risks haven’t disappeared. This is going too far, way too soon. Infections are still rife in schools. Large numbers of pupils and staff are off. Allowing a premature return could lead to a further jump in infections and disrupt learning for thousands more children and young people.”
The resistance comes despite Covid infections falling consistently, with even the gloomiest surveillance study now accepting that the country’s outbreak has peaked – mirroring the official numbers.
The milder nature of Omicron, coupled with sky-high immunity, mean the NHS never came under the levels of pressure that No 10’s experts feared would happen, with hospitalisations and deaths both now in freefall.
The Prime Minister yesterday dramatically declared the final domestic restrictions – including compulsory self-isolation for the infected – will be axed before the end of February, provided the “encouraging” trends in the data continue.
The announcement annoyed the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales – with Nicola Sturgeon’s administration calling it a publicity stunt to divert from the Partygate scandal that has left the PM fighting for his job.
The First Minister did this afternoon pledge to ditch face masks in Scotland’s classrooms from February 28th – keeping them in communal areas – but says she will wait for expert advice before following Boris’s lead on any other rules.
Professor Tim Spector, leader of the ZOE Covid study app at Kings College London, warned relaxing Covid curbs is a “political type of statement rather than a scientific one”. He said it was “totally the wrong” way to show Britain has beaten Covid, describing Mr. Johnson’s statement as irresponsible.
He noted that while Covid hospitalisations and deaths are down, the data from the ONS and the Zoe study show the U.K. is still at more than 200,000 cases a day “and we’re still close to where we were on January 1st and that peak we had”.
He added: “It’s definitely not over – your risk of getting it is huge – and to suddenly give the wrong message… by saying ‘We’re getting rid of all restrictions, if you’ve got an infection don’t bother isolating’, which is sort of implied but not said, that is totally wrong. So, other countries might be doing this, but they have a much stronger public health message and a much better-educated public about the pandemic which we lack here in this country.”
Which is a bit rude.
A YouGov poll suggests the majority of Britons are against the Prime Minister’s plans and believe infected Britons should be forced to isolate. Asking 4,451 Britons whether they think people should be legally required to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid, nearly half (48%) said the requirement should always be in place, while 27% said it should be legally required for the “next few months”. Depressingly, just 17% said people should not be ordered to stay at home when they test positive. The poor record of opinion polls and their well-documented biases do need to be kept in mind, however.
Stephen Griffin from the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds said: “In my view, the way in which this is being implemented is a profound mistake. Again. Literally blinding ourselves by removing testing and isolation robs us of the most fundamental means of controlling the spread of this virus.”
Yes Stephen, that’s the point – we’re no longer trying to ‘control’ the virus. A fool’s errand in any case.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said he is reserving judgement on whether the restrictions should be eased, but Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders said the party needs convincing the step is “a result of scientific advice and not based on protecting his political position”.
Conservative MPs, on the other hand, were very supportive. Former Minister Lord Frost said: “The PM’s plan to end all Covid restrictions a month early is the right thing to do and is extremely welcome. I hope the Government will also make clear we will not go down the road of coercive lockdowns ever again.”
Bob Seely said lockdown must never be deployed again: “I am glad to see the emphasis on learning to live with Covid. We now need a grown-up and sensible approach setting out how we will protect the vulnerable in future without the enormous cost of locking down the rest of society. We know Covid may return this autumn or winter, but it would be indefensible to lock down again.”
Steve Baker said: “I welcome this announcement but we are not out of the woods until the Public Health Act has been reformed, we have new rules for better modelling, competitive, multi-disciplinary expert advice and wellbeing-based cost-benefit analysis covering the costs of lockdowns and restrictions. There is much to do!”
The laws may be on the way out, but the guidance looks set to hang around for some time. The Prime Minister’s Press Secretary said businesses would be given a “wide range of guidance” on how to treat employees following the removal of the Covid self-isolation requirement.
Legal experts have warned that even without laws it is possible businesses could be taken to an employment tribunal if an outbreak in the workplace leads to serious illness or the death of a friend or relative of an employee.
Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she is urgently seeking clarity from the U.K. Government on the implications of the announcement for Scotland.
The Mail has put together this handy graphic on the costs of lockdown restrictions in the past two years.
The cries of impending doom are reminiscent of those heard ahead of Freedom Day last summer, and then again in December as Omnicold hit. On both occasions, of course, the predicted mega-wave of hospitalisations and deaths failed to materialise. Having failed to learn from that, many people it appears don’t want to go back to normal, preferring instead to live forever in a world where all your plans for the week can be extinguished because you tested positive for a certain kind of cold.
Worth reading in full.