Community News

Coronavirus restrictions and free mass testing to end in England

Government releases new Living with COVID-19 plan

The Prime Minister has announced an end to COVID restrictions in England starting this week as the government releases its new plan for “living with COVID-19”.

Free mass testing will also end and 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.

Boris Johnson emphasised “personal responsibility” for COVID in future, rather than government restrictions to control it.

He said the primary line of defence from now on would be “pharmaceutical interventions”, such as antivirals and vaccines.

Scientists have exercised more caution – with England’s Chief Medical Officer Prof Sir Chris Whitty saying the number of people being infected with Omicron was still “very high”. 

He said the public health advice for people with COVID would still be to self-isolate to prevent others catching it – as it would be for many other highly infectious diseases.

The UK government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, warned the virus would continue to evolve over the next couple of years and there was “no guarantee” future variants would be less severe than Omicron.

He said it was crucial the country retained a virus surveillance system to monitor new threats and the capacity to “ramp up” measures again quickly to protect the vulnerable.

Opposition parties have also been concerned about the stopping of self-isolation support payments which would hit those on the lowest incomes and in insecure employment the hardest.

What are the new changes?

From 21 February:

  • Staff and students in most education and childcare settings no longer have to test twice weekly

From 24 February: 

  • People with COVID will no longer be legally required to self-isolate
  • Guidance will remain in place for those who test positive to stay at home and avoid contact with others for at least five full days 
  • Workers will no longer have to to tell their employer if they need to self-isolate
  • Self-isolation support payments of £500 for those on low incomes will no longer be available – but COVID provisions for increased statutory sick pay will apply for a further month
  • Contact tracing will end – people in contact with someone with COVID will no longer be advised to self-isolate or take daily tests

From 1 April:

  • COVID tests will no longer be free for most people – and will instead be targeted towards the most vulnerable
  • The use of COVID passports will no longer be recommended – except for international travel
  • Employers will no longer have to consider COVID in their health and safety risk assessments

For more information on the government’s plan for Living with Covid-19 visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-response-living-with-covid-19