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📌 Featured🩺 Health🌍 World🦠Coronavirus

Boris Johnson announces end of Covid legal restrictions in England

بوريس جونسون يعلن إنهاء قيود كورونا في بريطانيا

Financial Times

Boris Johnson announced the ending of all remaining coronavirus legal restrictions in England, but only after a fierce cabinet row broke out over the cost of future testing for the virus.

The UK prime minister was cheered by Conservative MPs after he announced that England was “moving from government restrictions to personal responsibility” in the way it dealt with the pandemic in future.

The legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive Covid-19 test will be scrapped from February 24. Free testing for the general public will end on April 1, although it will continue for the elderly and vulnerable and social care staff who are symptomatic.

But Johnson warned that the government’s scientific advisers believed that there may be “significant resurgences”, adding: “They are certain there will be new variants and it’s very possible those will be worse than Omicron.”

Speaking at a televised press briefing on Monday evening, Sir Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, alongside Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, struck a cautious tone.

Whitty argued that, in terms of cases, the Omicron wave was still “high” and urged the public to continue “sensible” measures to reduce the risk of infection such as washing hands and wearing a mask within enclosed spaces.

“As we look at the next weeks, we still have high rates of Omicron and I would urge people in terms of public health advice — and this is very much the government’s position — that people should still, if they have Covid, try to prevent other people getting it, and that means self-isolating,” he added.

Vallance warned that the pandemic was not yet over, adding that the public should “expect there to be further variants and they could be more severe”.

Before the announcement, Johnson was forced to postpone a Covid cabinet meeting after wrangling between the Treasury and Department of Health over the cost of measures to safeguard against future outbreaks.

Sajid Javid, health secretary, argued that he needed more money than allocated to the NHS budget to monitor future developments of the virus and to allow a response to be scaled up quickly if necessary.

After days of haggling, that continued during Monday morning, Javid agreed that he would absorb about £1bn of costs from within the NHS budget by “reprioritising” spending.

Under the plan, the Office for National Statistics’ Covid surveillance operation will continue, along with genomic sequencing to spot new mutations.

Rishi Sunak, chancellor, successfully argued that this could be funded from within the NHS spending review settlement agreed last year, which from April will include £12bn extra from a rise in national insurance contributions.

Johnson also announced an updated biosecurity strategy to protect the UK from threats including “accidental laboratory leaks” and biological attacks by state and non-state actors.

But he said the existing testing programme, which cost £15.7bn this financial year, had to be scaled back while creating the surveillance mechanisms needed to “ramp up testing” in future if needed.

To cheers from Conservative MPs, many of whom have bridled against the use of lockdowns and other state edicts during the pandemic, Johnson added: “We don’t need laws to compel people to be considerate of others.”

Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, called on the government to publish data supporting the ending of the legal requirement to self-isolate, including its impact on the clinically vulnerable.

He also called for free testing to continue beyond April 1. “Free tests can’t continue forever, but if you’re 2-1 up with 10 minutes to go, you don’t sub off one of your best defenders.”

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, made clear that she would take a more cautious approach than Johnson.

“I do not agree with him about the ending of self-isolation for positive cases at this point, because that is effectively saying to people: ‘If you have got Covid, it is OK to go and potentially infect others in workplaces and settings elsewhere’,” she said.

The Scottish government will announce its coronavirus strategy on Tuesday.

Health leaders also expressed concern about the relaxation of restrictions, which Pat Cullen, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said, “feels unplanned and ill-informed”.

The prime minister had the opportunity to reassure healthcare staff in England that they still had access to tests “and they will be alarmed today by this omission”, she said.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, added: “We urge the government to reconsider its plan, with dedicated funding for continued access to Covid tests for all NHS workers in patient-facing roles.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said, “it would be very premature to see [the strategy] as signalling a permanent victory over Covid-19”. 

Earlier on Monday, the UK government announced that over-75s, care home residents and immunosuppressed individuals aged 12 and over would be offered another dose of the Covid vaccine in the spring.

The health secretary said: “We know immunity to Covid-19 begins to wane over time. That’s why we’re offering a spring booster to those people at higher risk of serious Covid-19 to make sure they maintain a high level of protection.”

قنا

لندن: أعلن السيد بوريس جونسون رئيس الوزراء البريطاني، إلغاء كافة القيود المتبقية التي كانت مفروضة جراء تفشي وباء كورونا /كوفيد-19/ على مدار العامين الماضيين في إنجلترا.

وقال جونسون، في عرضه لخطة “التعايش مع فيروس كورونا” أمام مجلس العموم /البرلمان/، إنه سيتم وقف العمل بوجوب الحجر المنزلي لمن تثبت إصابته بفيروس كورونا، ابتداء من يوم الخميس المقبل.

وأضاف رئيس الوزراء البريطاني أنه ابتداء من الأول من أبريل المقبل سيقتصر الاختبار المجاني للكشف عن إصابات كورونا على الفئة الأكثر عرضة للإصابة بأعراض المرض الشديدة، ما يعني انتهاء عملية إجراء اختبارات مجانية على نطاق واسع لأكبر عدد من السكان، فضلا عن وقف العمل بـ “جواز اللقاح” الذي كان مطلوبا لدخول أماكن التجمعات الكبرى.

وأشار جونسون إلى أن “اليوم ليس يوم إعلان الانتصار على كوفيد، لأن الفيروس لم يرحل”، مضيفا أن عامي الوباء “كانا من أسوأ وأحلك السنوات التي عشناها في تاريخنا في زمن السلم”.

وقال إن بلاده تخطت ذروة تفشي سلالة /أوميكرون/ المتحورة من فيروس /كورونا/، مع تناقص أعداد المصابين وعدد المرضى الذين يحتاجون إلى رعاية سريرية في المستشفيات، لافتا إلى أن البلاد “يمكن أن تتحول الآن إلى الوضع الطبيعي مع الاحتفاظ بخطط الطوارىء في حال تفشى الوباء مرة أخرى أن ظهر متحور جديد”.

وتعد بريطانيا من أكثر بلدان العالم تأثرا بوباء كورونا، حيث سجلت أكثر من 161 ألف وفاة بالفيروس، بالإضافة إلى نحو 19 مليون حالة إصابة منذ بدء تفشي الفيروس في مارس عام 2020.

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