ENGLAND – UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that all restrictions intended to curb the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant imposed in December – including mask-wearing in public indoor areas, work-from-home orders, and vaccine passports – will now be allowed to expire, starting as Thursday of next week.
Johnson also announced that self-isolation mandates on those who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be allowed to expire as of March 24, although that date could possibly be bumped up sooner. In addition, students at secondary schools will no longer be required to wear masks, effective immediately.
“From tomorrow we will no longer require face masks in classrooms and the Department for Education will shortly remove national guidance on their use in communal areas,” Johnson said. “In the country at large we will continue to suggest the use of face coverings in enclosed or crowded spaces, particularly when you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet, but we will trust the judgment of the British people and no longer criminalize anyone who chooses not to wear one.”
Data shows that that COVID-19 infections have dropped in England for the first time since early December with 108,069 new cases reported on Wednesday, which is approximately 50 percent lower than one month prior.
The prime minister informed the members of House of Commons – consisting of 650 elected members known as members of Parliament (MPs) – that analysis of COVID date showed that “time and again this government got the toughest decisions right” and that the “Plan B” measures implemented late last year to combat the Omicron variant could be lifted.
This announcement currently only pertains to England itself, and not the United Kingdom as a whole.
The announcements drew cheers from some Conservative members of the Commons – consisting of 650 elected MPs – although there has since been pushback from members of the country’s teaching and health unions.
The UK’s largest health union, Unison, warned that immediately removing the provisions of Plan B “in one fell swoop” could cause a resurgence of COVID-19 infections at a time when some regions of England are still reporting high daily numbers.
“Everyone wants to put the pandemic behind them. But if safety measures are abandoned too early, in one fell swoop, the good progressmade could be quickly undone,” Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said. “The danger is people will think it’s all over when no one can be sure that’s true. New cases are no longer on the rise, but thousands are in hospital and many more are still being infected each day.”