Today is an important moment as we see the end of all legal covid restrictions following the Prime Minister’s announcement earlier in the week. We’ve been able to do this as we use the strong protection we have built up against the virus to restore people’s freedoms in full.
The Prime Minister made clear that Covid restrictions would not stay a day longer than is necessary and proportionate in order to protect ourselves against Covid-19. The Government has delivered on that promise – restoring people’s freedoms in full through our plan for living with Covid, which focuses on removing regulations and requirements while emphasising public health advice and continuing to protect the vulnerable.
Understandably some will remain concerned about the lifting of restrictions and the impact on vulnerable individuals. It is thanks to our world-leading vaccine rollout that we are able to bring our response to Covid in line with other viruses and allow people to get back to normal while remaining protected. The vaccine programme, along with new medication proving effective in the treatment of the virus, that is the most effective way of protecting the most vulnerable, whilst allowing our country to return to normal.
Inevitably this means significant changes in our national approach to the virus bringing it line with how we tackle other infectious diseases. This means:
- The remaining domestic restrictions in England will be removed. The legal requirement to self-isolate ends. Until 1 April, we still advise people who test positive to stay at home. Adults and children who test positive are advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least five full days and then continue to follow the guidance until they have received two negative test results on consecutive days.
- From April, the Government will update guidance setting out the ongoing steps that people with COVID-19 should take to be careful and considerate of others, similar to advice on other infectious diseases. This will align with testing changes.
- Self-isolation support payments, national funding for practical support and the medicine delivery service will no longer be available.
- Routine contact tracing ends, including venue check-ins on the NHS COVID-19 app.
- Fully vaccinated adults and those aged under 18 who are close contacts are no longer advised to test daily for seven days and the legal requirement for close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to self-isolate will be removed.
Whilst our testing programme was a crucial part of our response to the virus, it is only right that we now change the advice. Over 2 billion lateral flow tests have been provided across the UK since 2020 ensuring people could stay safe and meet family and friends knowing they were free of the virus.
The Test & Trace programme cost £15.7 billion in 2021/22. With Omicron now the dominant variant and less severe, levels of high immunity across the country and a range of strategies in place including vaccines, treatments, and public health knowledge, the value for taxpayers’ money is now less clear. Free testing should rightly be focused on at-risk groups. As a result, universal free provision of tests will end as our response to the virus changes.
From the start of April, the government will end free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public. Limited symptomatic testing will be available for a small number of at-risk groups. Further details on which groups will be eligible will be published shortly. Free symptomatic testing will also remain available to social care staff. We are working with retailers to ensure that everyone who wants to can buy a test.