PM to confirm plans to end self-isolation and scale-back free Covid tests in England

Video and words by ITV News Political Reporter Harry Horton on the plans to remove all Covid rules in England from next week

Boris Johnson says the end of coronavirus isolation laws “will mark a moment of pride” for England as he prepares to present the government’s plan for "living with Covid" on Monday.

The prime minister says that while “the pandemic is not over”, the government is now “one step closer towards a return to normality and finally giving people back their freedoms while continuing to protect ourselves and others".

On Monday, the PM will meet with his Cabinet before updating MPs in the afternoon on plans to scale back Covid testing and end the legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive coronavirus test, in England. The rules are expected to be repealed by the end of the week.

The announcement comes just 24 hours after the Queen tested positive for Covid-19.

Currently, England looks to be the only one of the UK's nations which is set to scrap self-isolation rules.

What are the rules around the rest of the UK?

  • Scotland: people who test positive must self-isolate for up to 10 days. No changes are expected when Nicola Sturgeon updates Holyrood on Tuesday.

  • Wales: people who test positive must self isolate for up to 10 days. The rules will be reviewed on March 3.

  • Northern Ireland: people who test positive should self isolate for up to 10 days. Self-isolation has always been “very strong guidance” rather than law.

It is expected that isolation rules will be scrapped in England later this week. Credit: PA

Labour says it will oppose the government’s planned changes to the rules.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting told ITV News: “We will be supporting the advice of NHS leaders and the scientific community. They do not support, it seems, at this stage removing the requirement to stay at home.

“The crucial thing is that people still have access to free testing because then they can then know their status and make responsible choices about staying at home.”

For the tens of thousands clinically vulnerable people who have spent much of the pandemic shielding, the relaxation of rules could bring more risk.

“We’ve gone through the last two years with varying levels of anxiety and feeling there is a certain level of protection in society at the moment because people are able to... in fact, encouraged to test.

"When that goes, people may feel that there’s no need for them to do that anymore, which is fine, but it’s not fine for us, because it may well expose us to a greater level of risk,” says Fiona Loud of Kidney Care UK.

Listen to the latest episode of ITV News' podcast, Coronavirus: What You Need To Know:

The NHS confederation said on Friday the UK shouldn’t scrap all free Covid testing following a survey of 300 senior staff in the health service.

It’s chief executive, Matthew Taylor, told ITV News that he wanted the government to move “carefully”, particularly to limit people who do not know they have Covid entering hospitals with vulnerable patients.

There have also been warnings from scientists advising government on a modelling sub-committee known as SPI-M-O (Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group). It put out a document that referred to research from the University of Warwick that suggestws measures such as testing, self-isolation, mask wearing, and increased home working had cut transmission by 20-45%.

The study warns that a sudden change to end testing and isolation at once could lead to a “return to rapid epidemic growth”.

Senior ministers have been in discussions for weeks about scaling back mass Covid testing and surveillance.

Boris Johnson said the UK spent £2 billion on testing in January alone and that such high expenditure did not need to continue

The move to end all remaining Covid laws in England will delight many Conservative backbenchers at a time when the prime minister has been under intense scrutiny over Downing Street parties.

 Last year, more than 100 Conservative MPs opposed the introduction of ‘plan B’ measures intended to stop the spread of the Omicron variant. The rules were only introduced with the support of Labour. The measures were abolished last month.