All coronavirus restrictions to lift in England - here's Boris Johnson's plan for living with Covid

Boris Johnson has set out his plan to lift all Covid restrictions. Credit: PA

All of England's coronavirus rules will be lifted later this week after Boris Johnson set out his plan for living with Covid but without any restrictions on people's lives.

The few Covid-19 laws remaining in England will soon be relaxed, including self-isolation, returning the country to the same levels of freedom enjoyed before the pandemic for the first time since the first lockdown began in March 2020.

The changes are not UK-wide, with Wales and Scotland employing more cautious strategies, but Northern Ireland had already moved to lift all its restrictions last week.

All of England's coronavirus laws were due to expire on March 24 however the prime minister announced two weeks ago at PMQs that "encouraging" data was allowing him to bring forward the date by a whole month.

Mr Johnson said the plan was about “finally giving people back their freedom” after “one of the most difficult periods in our country’s history”.

What is the living with Covid-19 plan?

  • The rule to self-isolate after a positive coronavirus test will be lifted from Thursday

The coronavirus restriction which has impacted people and the economy most during the pandemic will be lifted from Thursday.

There will no longer be any requirement to self-isolate following a positive test for anyone in England, whether or not they have been vaccinated.

The law will instead become guidance, with people being urged to act responsibly to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Vaccinated people will also no longer need to test for seven consecutive days if they've been in contact with a positive case, and do not wish to isolate and unvaccinated people will no longer need to remain at home if they have been.

Anyone who has severe symptoms is advised to act responsibly.

The PM said: "Until April 1 we will still advise people who test positive to stay at home but after that we will encourage people with Covid-19 symptoms to exercise personal responsibility, just as we encourage people who may have flu to be considerate to others."

  • Free universal testing will end in England on April 1

The provision of free testing for the general public will cease from April 1 - the contact tracing programme will stop from February 24.

Despite opposition from sections of the healthcare community, the PM is pressing ahead with his plan to scale back on free testing, something he said cost the UK £2 billion in January alone.

People in health and social care settings, such as hospitals and care homes will continue to have access to free tests, as well as the most vulnerable people.

But the vast majority of people in England will have to pay from the end of March if they want to be tested for coronavirus.

The government is also removing twice weekly asymptomatic testing for anyone in school settings.

Is the time right for this decision? ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan gives her answer

The removal of universal free testing is England only but the devolved nations will be able to keep it so long as they fund it themselves without additional cash from the UK government.

A strong domestic surveillance system will be maintained, to detect any new variants, as will the ONS Covid infection survey.

The UK Health Security Agency will maintain an "appropriate" level of lab infrastructure in order to bring PCR testing back if necessary and stock of Lateral Flow Tests will be kept as a contingency.

After April 1, if someone suspects they have Covid with mild symptoms and wants to check, they will have to pay for a test. If someone has severe symptoms they'll be able to go to A&E and be tested for free.

  • What about new variants?

England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said its likely that new variants will be identified which will "cause significant problems".

He said "we need to be very careful" about new variants, saying testing and tracing would need to be ramped up quickly if a new, dangerous strain was found.

Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said the "virus is continuing to evolve" and it will continue to do so "quite fast probably for the next couple years".

He said there is "no guarantee that the next variant is as reduced severity as Omicron," adding: "We expect there to be further variants and they could be more severe."

  • How much will tests cost?

The government expects a market for lateral flow devices to develop once boxes are no longer available free on the NHS, with individual tests expected to cost a few pounds. To prevent people stockpiling them before April 1, individuals will only be able to order a box of tests on the NHS every three days instead of every 24 hours.

  • Financial support through Covid will be removed

Self-isolation support payments will cease from Thursday, February 24.

From March 24 the extra Covid provision on statutory sick pay as well as the employment and support allowance will also lift.

  • Vaccines will continue to be rolled out

An additional Covid-19 booster jab will be offered to the UK's most vulnerable to the virus from spring.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he'd accepted advice from the government's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which said a new booster will "maintain their protection against severe Covid-19".

An extra jab will be offered to people aged 75 years and over, residents in care homes for older adults, and people aged 12 years and over who are immunosuppressed.

The advice has been accepted by all four devolved nations, meaning the rollout from spring will be UK wide.

The JCVI says it expects those people will be offered a further booster in the autumn of 2022, ahead of winter which it says is "the season when the threat from Covid-19 is greatest".

Mr Javid said the JCVI will keep under review whether the booster programme should be extended to further at-risk groups.

  • Antivirals will form core of plan to prevent lockdowns

A wide range of anti-viral treatments, which have been developed during the pandemic, will remain available to help the most vulnerable people fight off Covid-19.

These, alongside vaccines, will form the core of Mr Johnson's plan to avoid any further lockdowns.

Antibody and antiviral treatments including paxlovid, molnupiravir, sotrovimab, remdesivir and have all been assessed as helping those at risk.

The treatments can help some people manage their Covid-19 symptoms and reduce the risk of becoming seriously ill. They are for people who have not been admitted to hospital.

  • Covid passes, the NHS app and international travel

From April 1, large venues will no longer be advised to require Covid certification from the people they admit.

The NHS app, however, will continue to allow people to indicate their vaccination status for international travel.

It is expected that many countries around the world will still require proof from travellers before allowing them to enter and the NHS Covid pass will facilitate that for people who have been vaccinated.

Watch Boris Johnson's Covid update in full:

And the passenger locator form, which travellers, including British citizens, are required to fill out before entering the UK, Mr Johnson said.

He told the Commons: "We have one of the most open travel systems in the world and the passenger locator form, I understand his grievance against it, we are certainly reviewing it."

  • Opposition to the plan, plus what Wales and Scotland think

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer labelled Mr Johnson's living with Covid plan as "a half-baked announcement from a Government paralysed by chaos and incompetence".

He criticised the removal of free testing, saying 'if you're 2-1 up with 10 minutes to go, you don't sub off one of your best defenders".

The Labour leader said the British people will continue to act "responsibly" and "do the right thing" of testing and isolating if positive, but said he can't understand why the Government is "taking away the tools that will help them to do that".

He also said the removal of financial support will hit the "lowest paid and most insecure workers" the hardest.

The end to free universal testing in April, which will prove controversial with devolved leaders.

The Welsh government is opposing any change to the testing programme, saying a move to stop the free provision would be "premature and reckless".

First Minister Mark Drakeford said testing plays a "pivotal role in breaking chains of transmission" and it is "essential" that it continues.

A Welsh government spokesperson added: "Any decision to effectively turn off the tap on our National Testing Programme with no future plans in place to reactivate it would put people at risk. This is not acceptable."

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also voiced her opposition to aspects of the living with Covid plan, saying she "expressed frustration" to Michael Gove, the minister for the union.

In a tweet thread, she said: "The reality of UK finance flows means this decision determines the money devolved administrations (paid for by taxpayers in Sc, Wales & NI) have for testing."

She added that "the concern is more than just an end to free access to testing in short term (a decision I don't agree with) - it'll also be hard for UK to retain adequate testing capacity for longer term surveillance & response to new variants".

Labour has also questioned the thinking around scaling back on the availability of free lateral flow tests, with shadow health secretary Mr Streeting warning: “We are not out of the woods yet on Covid.”

Watch Boris Johnson's press conference live