British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scrapping coronavirus self-isolation rules as part of a “living with COVID” strategy, one day after Queen Elizabeth II announced she had contracted the virus.
The new rules, which Johnson says will help jump start the country’s economy, take effect on Thursday. That means people who test positive for the virus will no longer be required to self-isolate for a minimum of five days.
The change will not apply to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which set their own health policy regulations.
“COVID will not suddenly disappear,” Johnson told Parliament on Monday. “So those who would wait for a total end to this war before lifting the remaining regulations would be restricting the liberties of the British people for a long time to come.”
Johnson has said he nearly died from COVID-19 in 2020 when he was hospitalized in intensive care for several days. But he has long advocated for lifting requirements despite warnings from health experts that such changes could endanger people with weak immune systems, including older adults and other vulnerable groups, as well as putting additional stress on the nation’s overburdened health care system.
The prime minister has also been under pressure from his Conservative Party to modify or lift the existing restrictions. Now he appears to have satisfied their demands, saying, “Restrictions pose a heavy toll on our economy, our society, our mental well-being and on the life chances of our children — and we do not need to pay that cost any longer.”
The move comes as Britain continues to recover from the rapid spread of the omicron variant that peaked in December and early January, when the daily infection rate spiked to about 200,000 people. Daily infection rates remain in the tens of thousands. On Monday, U.K. officials reported nearly 34,500 new positive cases.
Johnson added that the queen’s recent diagnosis is a “reminder that this virus has not gone away.”
According to Buckingham Palace, the U.K’s longest reigning monarch, is “experiencing mild cold-like symptoms but expects to continue light duties at Windsor over the coming week.”
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