February 2022: The Government has set out the plan for removing the remaining legal restrictions while protecting people most vulnerable to COVID-19 and maintaining resilience.
The Prime Minister made clear that COVID-19 restrictions would not stay a day longer than is necessary and proportionate in order to protect ourselves against COVID-19. Today, he has delivered on that promise – restoring people’s freedoms in full through our plan for living with COVID-19, which focuses on removing regulations and requirements while emphasising public health advice and continuing to protect the vulnerable.
Thanks to our hugely successful vaccination programme, the immunity built up in the population and our new antiviral and therapeutics tools, the UK is in the strongest possible position to learn how to live with COVID-19 and end Government regulation.
The Plan sets out how vaccines and other pharmaceutical interventions will continue to form our first line of defence. The Government has accepted the JCVI recommendation to offer an additional booster to all adults aged over 75, all residents in care homes for older adults, and all over 12s who are immunosuppressed. An autumn annual booster programme is under consideration, subject to further advice. Further detail on deployment on the spring booster programme will be set out in due course. The Government will continue to be guided by the JCVI on future vaccine programmes.
The public are still encouraged to continue to follow public health advice, as with all infectious diseases such as the flu, to minimise the chance of catching Covid and help protect family and friends. The Prime Minister has today confirmed domestic legal restrictions will end on 24 February as we begin to treat Covid as other infectious diseases such as flu. This means:
- The remaining domestic restrictions in England will be removed. The legal requirement to self-isolate ends. Until 1 April, we still advise people who test positive to stay at home. Adults and children who test positive are advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least five full days and then continue to follow the guidance until they have received two negative test results on consecutive days.
- From April, the Government will update guidance setting out the ongoing steps that people with COVID-19 should take to be careful and considerate of others, similar to advise on other infectious diseases. This will align with testing changes.
- Routine contact tracing ends, including venue check-ins on the NHS COVID-19 app.
- Fully vaccinated adults and those aged under 18 who are close contacts are no longer advised to test daily for seven days and the legal requirement for close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to self-isolate will be removed.
- Self-isolation support payments, national funding for practical support and the medicine delivery service will no longer be available.
- On 24 March, the Government will also remove the COVID-19 provisions within the Statutory Sick Pay and Employment and Support Allowance regulations.
As set out in the Autumn and Winter Plan, universal free provision of tests will end as our response to the virus changes. From the start of April 2022, the Government will end free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public. Limited symptomatic testing will be available for a small number of at-risk groups and we will set out further details on which groups will be eligible shortly. Free symptomatic testing will also remain available to social care staff. We are also working with retailers to ensure that everyone who wants a Covid Test, can buy a test.
The testing programme has been a crucial part of our response to the virus. Over 2 billion lateral flow tests have been provided across the UK since 2020 ensuring people could stay safe and meet family and friends knowing they were free of the virus. The Test & Trace programme cost £15.7 billion in 2021/22. With Omicron now the dominant variant and less severe, levels of high immunity across the country and a range of strategies in place including vaccines, treatments, and public health knowledge, the value for taxpayers’ money is now less clear. Free testing should rightly be focused on at-risk groups.
The Government remains ready to respond if a new variant emerges and places unsustainable pressure on the NHS, through surveillance systems and contingency measures such as increased testing capacity or vaccine programmes. Our world-leading ONS survey will allow us to continue to track the virus in granular detail to help us spot any surges in the virus.
Thanks to our world-leading vaccine rollout, we are able to bring our response to COVID-19 in line with other viruses and allow people to get back to normal while remaining protected.
For more information on the Government’s plan for removing the remaining legal restrictions while protecting people most vulnerable to COVID-19 and maintaining resilience, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-sets-out-plan-for-living-with-covid