Thursday , May 19 2022
Boris Johnson says England’s virus rules will ease next week.

Boris Johnson says England’s virus rules will ease next week.

LONDON — With Omicron cases beginning to fall, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said on Wednesday that coronavirus restrictions in England would be eased next week, a move likely to mollify critics in his restive Conservative Party at a time when he is besieged by career-threatening political scandals.

After a raucous question-and-answer session in Parliament that was overshadowed by the prime minister’s own political woes, Mr. Johnson said that requirements for mask wearing and showing proof of vaccination would be lifted. The government is also no longer advising people to work from home.

“As Covid becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others,” Mr. Johnson said.

The prime minister has pointed to Britain’s robust vaccine booster program and widespread testing alongside a drop in coronavirus cases as the rationale for the policy shift, even as scientists and public health experts warn that it is too early to declare the virus merely a mundane part of everyday life.

Mr. Johnson also said the government planned to eventually end the legal requirement to self-isolate — which now expires on March 24 — and that he might bring forward that date, likening it to how people are not legally required to isolate after contracting the flu.

He said he had met with his cabinet on Wednesday morning to review the limited curbs now in place and to discuss the latest health data.

The expected shift in coronavirus policy comes as the prime minister is under intense political pressure, from both opposition lawmakers and leaders in his own party, over claims that he lied to Parliament about parties held in Downing Street during a lockdown.

On Wednesday, a member of his Conservative Party, Christian Wakeford, defected to the opposition Labour Party in protest over the scandal.

Under the current rules, introduced in December under what was called “Plan B,” people in England have been urged to work from home if possible and instructed to wear face coverings in confined spaces such as public transportation.

The government also introduced a requirement for people entering nightclubs and some large sporting events to show a pass proving that they had either been vaccinated or had recently tested negative for coronavirus.

In December, nearly 100 Conservative lawmakers rebelled over the imposition of the vaccine certification restrictions. And just before Christmas Mr. Johnson did not tighten restrictions despite calls from scientists worried about skyrocketing cases of the Omicron variant and the resulting pressure on the health service.

The Plan B measures were scheduled to expire on Jan. 26, and by announcing a relaxation this week, Mr. Johnson could deflect some attention from the furor over the Downing Street parties.

Cases in Britain remain high but are down 39 percent in the most recent seven-day period compared with the previous week. While Downing Street said that about 17,000 people remained hospitalized in England alone, daily hospital admissions of Covid patients there have also begun to fall after peaking on Jan. 9, according to the Our World in Data project at Oxford University.

The average number of daily deaths, which lag behind cases, is up to 264, a 107 percent increase over two weeks, according to a New York Times database.

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