Ignoring criticism, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday an end to compulsory isolation of coronavirus cases until Thursday in England, a key and controversial measure in his strategy for coexisting with COVID-19 as with “the flu”.
The United Kingdom, among the countries worst affected by the pandemic with more than 160,000 deaths, was among the first countries in Europe to attempt a return to pre-pandemic life, relying on high vaccination coverage.
Stuck in a scandal over organized parties in Downing Street while in confinement, threatening his political survival and subject to a police investigation, Boris Johnson has decided to speed up and lift key measures still in place in England two years after the pandemic.
Citing the success of the vaccination campaign, the Conservative Party leader told Parliament, a sharp drop in hospitalizations and the ability to “respond quickly if a new type emerges”.
He noted that more than 71% of adults had received three doses of the Covid vaccine in England, including 93% of those over the age of 70.
However, it will remain recommended, until April 1, to stay at home in the event of a positive test, which is the date when the free examination, except for the elderly or frail, will be canceled due to its significant financial cost. Then, should symptoms develop, it will be a matter of “personal responsibility, just as we encourage those who may have the flu to be vigilant of others,” Boris Johnson insisted.
Once the peak of the Omicron wave passed in January, the leader had already lifted most restrictions in force in England, such as the inner mask and health card for disco or group events.
Referring to the tensions surrounding these latest steps, the Cabinet, scheduled in the morning to approve this plan, was postponed to the afternoon, by phone, according to the media, due to disagreements over the end of the free examination.
The number of cases has fallen sharply in the UK, but remains around 40,000 cases a day, including Sunday’s Queen Elizabeth II, who, according to Buckingham Palace, has only “mild” symptoms.
At the same time as this relaxation occurs, the government intends to continue the vaccination campaign, with a new “spring” dose of the Covid vaccine given to people over 75 and the most vulnerable.
These measures have been welcomed by the conservative majority seats, as well as by the employers’ organization CBI, which sees them as an “important step forward towards a return to normalcy”.
On the other hand, they have been criticized by the leader of the Labor opposition, who would leave the British “vulnerable”, as well as by the leader of the Scottish nationalization of the Scottish National Party in Westminster, Ian Blackford, who sees political expediency.
The World Health Organization’s envoy to Europe, David Nabarro, expressed concern that the country was “choosing a line that goes against the public health consensus”, which would create a “domino effect in the world”.
For Christina Bagel, professor of operational research at UCLA, these measures will first affect the most disadvantaged, who will find it more difficult to test and isolate themselves, and public financial support is also removed, with the risk of increasing infection around them.
In terms of health, government decisions in London are limited to England. The other three countries – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – that are competent in matters of health, have often adopted a more cautious approach.
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