Boris Johnson has announced the end of all Covid measures introduced to combat the Omicron variant – compulsory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops, guidance to work from home and vaccine certificates – from next week.
The prime minister also told the Commons that the legal requirement on people with coronavirus to self-isolate would be allowed to lapse when the regulations expired on 24 March, and that date could be brought forward.
To cheers from some on the Conservative benches, Johnson announced an immediate end to the need for pupils to wear masks at secondary schools.
While Johnson’s statement will please a number of his backbenchers, it prompted concern from teaching and health unions, and from NHS and public health representatives.
Responding for Labour, Keir Starmer said he would back the change as long as it was supported by evidence, saying Johnson must “reassure the public he is acting to protect their health, not just his job”.
Updating MPs, the prime minister said Covid data was “showing that time and again this government got the toughest decisions right” and that the plan B rules imposed in December could be lifted from next Thursday, the day after a pre-existing review point.
Although it had been expected that Johnson would announce the end of work-from-home guidance and the need to show a certificate proving vaccination or a recent negative Covid test to enter some venues, the immediate lifting of mandatory mask rules will come as a surprise to some.
“From tomorrow we will no longer require face masks in classrooms and the Department for Education will shortly remove national guidance on their use in communal areas,” Johnson told the Commons.
“In the country at large we will continue to suggest the use of face coverings in enclosed or crowded spaces, particularly when you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet, but we will trust the judgment of the British people and no longer criminalise anyone who chooses not to wear one.”UK