COVID-19: England drop most restrictions

England on Thursday left behind almost all of the latest restrictions in place to fight COVID-19, with which the government hopes people will get used to living as they do with the flu.

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This wind of freedom is timely for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, more than ever weakened at the head of the government by the scandal of the parties held in defiance of anti-coronavirus rules in Downing Street.

After ending a week ago the recommendation to work from home for those who could, England is now abandoning other restrictions – among the lightest in Europe – introduced in December in the face of a surge in Omicron case: obligation to wear a mask inside public places and a vaccination passport to attend events with a large audience.

“As COVID becomes endemic, we must replace legal obligations with advice and recommendations,” Boris Johnson told MPs last week.

Opposed to the lifting of the obligation to wear a mask in public transport, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced that he would maintain this measure in the capital.

“Looks like we’re back in London as before,” rejoiced Elizabeth Hynes, 71, interviewed by AFP near St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the British capital. “We realize how much theater and great shows we missed.”

“Things need to get back to normal,” she adds, explaining that she has melanoma, but never had the coronavirus: “I was lucky, I touch wood”. “We don’t know what tomorrow will be made of”, she underlines, “you have to enjoy life”.

End of isolation

Lewis Colbyn, a 39-year-old bartender who once had COVID-19 and isn’t worried about catching it again, approaches this new phase with optimism and caution: “I’m not a scientist, I don’t have all the answers”. “Maybe it’s too early, maybe it’s too late, I don’t know,” he continues, saying he will continue to wear a mask in transport and in stores.

More reluctant than the rest of the United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) to establish restrictions, England had, for the first time, lifted them almost entirely on July 19, nicknamed the “day of freedom”.

But the emergence in the fall of Omicron, even more contagious than Delta, led Boris Johnson’s government to launch its “plan B”, despite the opposition of part of its majority.

These measures were intended to strengthen the protection of the population thanks to the recall campaign and to continue to try to convince the recalcitrant to be vaccinated. 37 million booster doses were thus administered, making it possible, underlines the government, to reduce serious cases and hospitalizations and to lessen the pressure on the health system.

According to the latest figures, 64% of the population over the age of 12 received a third dose.

As the number of cases exploded over the holidays, Boris Johnson had resisted calls to further toughen the restrictions in place. He believes the facts proved him right: hospitals held on, the number of patients on ventilators never increased, and cases fell markedly.

However, the United Kingdom, among the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, with nearly 155,000 deaths, still experiences nearly 100,000 new cases recorded daily.

According to a study published by Imperial College London, the level of infection remains high, especially among children and adolescents. Of the 3,500 participants in this large study who tested positive between January 5 and 20, two-thirds had already had the virus before.

The Prime Minister even hopes to be able to lift, in March, the obligation to isolate themselves in the event of a positive test, “just as there is no legal obligation for people who have the flu to isolate themselves”.

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