LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson intends to present plans next week to lift self-isolation requirements for people infected with COVID-19, his office said on Saturday.
The UK would become the first major European country to allow people who know they are infected with COVID-19 to use shops, public transport and commute freely – a move many of its health advisers say is risky.
“Covid will not suddenly go away and we must learn to live with this virus and continue to protect ourselves without restricting our freedoms,” Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson will also provide more details on how Britain will protect itself against future coronavirus variants through ongoing surveillance, amid reports the government is looking to end free testing and scale back public health studies.
Currently, people in England are legally required to self-isolate for at least five days on orders from health officials and are advised to self-isolate without special orders if they have COVID-19 symptoms or have tested positive.
Repealing legal requirements for self-isolation for COVID-19 and replacing them with voluntary guidance would bring the disease in line with how most other infections are treated in the UK.
Around 85% of the UK population aged 12 and over have had at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and two thirds of the population – including the vast majority of those most at risk – have had three.
Britain’s death toll of more than 160,000 deaths within 28 days of infection is the second highest in Europe after Russia. In relation to the size of the British population, it is 6% larger than the European Union average.
COVID-19 restrictions are unpopular with many members of Johnson’s Conservative Party, who see them as disproportionate given the widespread rollout of vaccines.
“Pharmaceutical interventions, spearheaded by the vaccination program, will continue to be our first line of defense,” the government said. “Awareness of public health guidance should remain as with all infectious diseases such as the flu.”
(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Christina Fincher)