All Covid restrictions including self-isolation likely to lift a month early in England, PM says
ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports on how the latest Covid data is driving the governments' decision to relax all restrictions sooner than planned
All of England's coronavirus restrictions, including the requirement to self-isolate following a positive test, could be lifted a full month sooner than planned, the prime minister has said.
Covid restrictions had been due to expire on March 24, but Boris Johnson told MPs he expects they can end a month sooner if the data continues to be encouraging.
It means in just over two weeks England could be returned to levels of freedom enjoyed before the pandemic, for the first time since restrictions were brought in almost two years ago.
He said he would present the government's "Living With Covid" strategy when the Commons returns from its recess on February 21 and end the last domestic restrictions including the legal duty for cases to self-isolate "a full month early".
Opening PMQs, he said: "It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with Covid.
"Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions - including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive - a full month early."
But ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston was unable to find anyone in the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) or New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) aware of any advice to lift self-isolation early.
Sources suggested the move was political and not scientific, with their typical reaction to the announcement being "it’s politics, isn’t it”.
Under the current rules, anyone who tests positive for coronavirus, with a lateral flow test or PCR, should isolate for a minimum of five days - they will be allowed to leave after receiving two negative test results after day five.
These rules apply whether or not people are vaccinated.
The requirement for people to wear face coverings in health care settings is also expected to be lifted.
While agreeing that high levels of vaccination offers a layer of protection for much of the population, experts have voiced concern about those with underlying conditions who are still vulnerable to the virus.
"Most people in the UK have either had Covid or have been triple vaccinated," Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, told ITV News.
"I think the remaining concerns are about the more vulnerable people. People who have other underlying conditions that may have made them respond poorly to vaccine."
'We do need to be aware of the risks to vulnerable people who have not reacted well to vaccines'
Speaking on ITV's Peston show Professor John Edmunds, a member of SAGE, urged caution on the government’s plan to end all Covid restrictions later this month.
"There are dangers," he said.
"This restriction is the last one - it targets those who are actually infectious with the virus and asks them to stay at home," he added.
It was also announced that travel restrictions on vaccinated people are set to be lifted before domestic restrictions, with all testing requirements for arrivals to England to be removed from February 11.
And travel restrictions on the unvaccinated will also be reduced.
From February 11 , individuals who are not fully vaccinated will only need to take a pre-departure test and a PCR test on or before day 2 after they arrive in the UK.
They will not need to self-isolate on arrival, and will only need to do so on receipt of a positive result.
Political Editor Robert Peston suggests Boris Johnson's decision to scrap all Covid rules could be related to the pressure on him over partygate
Asked if those rules would remain in place until the end of March, Downing Street said "we will obviously make a decision when we get to that stage".
Both vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers will still need to complete a passenger locator form, which is being simplified from February 11.
The PM's press secretary said businesses would be given a "wide range of guidance" on how to treat employees following the removal of the Covid self-isolation requirement.
Mr Johnson's spokesman said the removal of self-isolation requirements will be a "boost both for the public - we are able to restore freedoms - but also to our hard-hit businesses, particularly hospitality, enabling our economy to grow further."
Mr Johnson carried out a mini Cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday - replacing former chief whip Mark Spencer, who became leader of the Commons after Jacob Rees-Mogg was moved to become a Brexit minister.
The PM also has a revamped backroom team after five advisers quit within 24 hours last week, with a new communications director and chief of staff hoping to move the narrative away from the partygate scandal.
But he was unable to escape the accusations at PMQs as another photo emerged showing him near an open bottle of Champagne during lockdown in December 2020.
The Mirror published a photo showing the PM and staff - one wearing tinsel - near the open bottle during a Christmas quiz during coronavirus restrictions.
Shadow minister Fabian Hamilton challenged Mr Johnson over the image published during Prime Minister's questions.
The Labour MP said: "In the last few minutes a photo has emerged of the Prime Minister in Downing Street on December 15, 2020 surrounded by alcohol, food and people wearing tinsel.
"It looks a lot like one of the Christmas parties he told us never happened."
He added: "Will the prime minister be referring this party to the police as it is not one of the ones currently being investigated?"
Mr Johnson responded: "In what he has just said, I'm afraid he is completely in error."
He later confirmed the event in question "already has been submitted for investigation".
Coronavirus: What you need to know