For the first time in two years, England has lifted all government-sponsored COVID-19 restrictions in what has been dubbed the “living with COVID” plan. According to ABC News, England will no longer require mask wearing, mandatory isolation for those who test positive for COVID-19, or financial aid for people who have lost part of their income due to isolation. Beginning on April 1, free testing will also be scaled back. Scotland, Wales, and Ireland are all following suit in reopening, however with slightly more cautious policies.
Many citizens of the United Kingdom felt confused as to where this left them. According to The Guardian, free at-home testing is expected to be scaled back, as well as policies from schools and universities requiring twice-weekly testing. Requirements for people who test positive to self-isolate will be dropped, in addition to the scaling back of contact tracing efforts. Masks will continue to be recommended, but not required in most spaces. One of the only things that remains the same in the UK’s COVID-19 plan is an increased emphasis on the importance of people continuing to get vaccinated and boosted against the virus.
Reuters reports that this plan is aimed at helping to boost Britain’s economy after the toll that the past two years have taken. Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that the cost of maintaining these COVID-19 policies and protocols was becoming much too expensive, and that it needed to be “scaled back” to allow for an economic recovery to be made.
Prime Minister Johnson stated in a press conference that “today is not the day we can declare victory over COVID because this virus is not going away,” reports BBC News. The new plan for lifting restrictions is aimed at helping people navigate back towards normalcy, though what defines normalcy may have changed in the past two years. As COVID-19 continues to mutate, English officials felt that it was time to acknowledge the new reality the world faces— that of a life in which COVID-19 will likely never fully disappear.
England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, stated that this was not a drastic adjustment, but something that England had been gradually striving towards for a long time. BBC News continues that, while the number of people infected with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is still very high, the variant’s spread has peaked and continues to decline, one of the reasons that British officials felt that this was the right time for the changes.
Not all of England’s medical and scientific experts agree with the policies, however. According to , many health experts are confused as to why England is ending its self-isolation requirements. Dr. David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on COVID-19, said that while the world must acknowledge that COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon, that does not mean “just accepting whatever the virus chooses to do.” Rather, Dr. Nabarro and many other experts believe that it means creating a more dynamic approach to tackling the virus’s spread so that people are prepared for whatever the virus might do next.
These new changes also apply to travelers, reports NPR. For fully vaccinated travelers, proof of a negative COVID-19 test will no longer be required to visit England. Many airlines are praising this move after feeling the brunt of travel limitations over the past two years. Airports and tourist destinations are now making plans to reopen their doors, though this has been met with some concern from those who believe that the reopening is much too fast and could lead to another massive outbreak.
This news was met with mixed feedback amongst British citizens, reports. While some felt that this change was a way for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to increase his popularity while under fire for other scandals, others felt that the lifting of restrictions came later than it should have. A common thread in both lines of thinking is that COVID-19 will now be treated more like a common cold, which is frightening to many at-risk groups, but a comfort for those who believe that their lives will improve if they could get a newer, weaker strain of the virus and move on.