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Boris Johnson Is Set to Lift Coronavirus Restrictions in England

todayFebruary 21, 2022 2

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LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain was expected on Monday to lift the remaining coronavirus restrictions in England, including a legal requirement that those who test positive self-isolate, making the country an outlier in its handling of the pandemic.

Mr. Johnson’s statement, scheduled for Monday afternoon, comes at a time of falling case numbers but a day after Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II had tested positive and was suffering mild cold symptoms.

Some critics say that news underscores the risks of moving too quickly to scrap restrictions, while political opponents say that decisions are being taken in Downing Street to distract attention from a police investigation into whether Mr. Johnson broke the coronavirus laws he himself set.

Ahead of the announcement, Mr. Johnson’s aides said the prime minister would set out a strategy for living with the coronavirus, rather than declaring the pandemic over.

“The pandemic is not over but thanks to the incredible vaccine rollout we are now one step closer towards a return to normality, and finally giving people back their freedoms while continuing to protect ourselves and others,” Mr. Johnson said in remarks released by his office.

He added that the announcement would “mark a moment of pride after one of the most difficult periods in our country’s history as we begin to learn to live with Covid.”

The rules would apply only to England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own powers over health issues and make their own rules.

Mr. Johnson’s government has said that while it intends to scrap the legal requirement in England for those who have tested positive to self-isolate, it will still urge them to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus and protect the vulnerable.

The government also plans to scale back the country’s costly coronavirus testing program, a move about which even some of Mr. Johnson’s own lawmakers have expressed concern, with fears that it could restrict the availability of free tests. On Monday, a cabinet discussion on the details of that move was delayed at the last moment amid news reports of tension over the continuing costs of coronavirus measures.

Tim Loughton, a Conservative member of Parliament, said that the country had to “learn to live with Covid and not lock everything down and retreat until it goes away.” But he told the BBC that he had “slight apprehensions in that I think we still do need to have testing available widely, because I think that is the reassurance people can have that they’ve taken all possible precautions and they don’t want to infect other people.”

The current restrictions were scheduled to expire on March 24 and, given his precarious political position, Mr. Johnson might have struggled to persuade legislators from his own Conservative Party to agree to any extension of the legal requirement to self-isolate, with fines for those who break the rules.

Some on the libertarian wing of Mr. Johnson’s party are likely to press for the government to withdraw its current guidance to people to wear face coverings in crowded and confined spaces, given the falling case numbers.

The latest available statistics show 25,696 daily cases and 74 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

It was unclear how the new strategy would deal with the issue of vaccination and the question of whether a fourth shot would be offered and, if so, to which Britons.

The opposition Labour Party has called on the government to publish the scientific evidence behind its decision-making.

“Now is not the time to start charging for tests or weaken sick pay, when people are still being asked to behave responsibly,” said Wes Streeting, who speaks for the Labour Party on health issues.

He also accused the prime minister of making Monday’s expected announcement to distract attention from a crisis over his leadership and a police investigation into claims that parties were held in Downing Street during lockdown.

“Boris Johnson is declaring victory before the war is over, in an attempt to distract from the police knocking at his door,” Mr. Streeting said in a statement.

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todayFebruary 21, 2022