People who test positive for Covid-19 will no longer be legally required to isolate from Thursday, and free universal testing will end in April under Boris Johnson’s plan for “living with Covid”.
The prime minister detailed the strategy for England to the Commons on Monday afternoon after a Cabinet disagreement thought to centre on funding for future surveillance of the virus.
Those who receive a positive Covid-19 test will still be advised to stay at home for at least five days, but will not be obliged to under law under the plans subject to parliamentary approval.
Johnson warned the “pandemic is not over”, with the Queen’s positive test a “reminder this virus has not gone away”.
But he told MPs it was time to “move from Government restrictions to personal responsibility”, with “sufficient levels of immunity to complete the transition” from laws to relying on vaccines and treatments.
“It is time that we got our confidence back. We don’t need laws to compel people to be considerate to others. We can rely on that sense of responsibility towards one another,” the prime minister said.
“So let us learn to live with this virus and continue protecting ourselves and others without restricting our freedoms.”
Johnson also confirmed that anyone who wants to take a Covid test from 1 April, to confirm that their systems are the virus, will have to pay between £2 and £5 per individual lateral flow test – or around £20 for a pack of seven.
Care home residents, hospital patients and other vulnerable patients will still be given free tests if they have symptoms.
Boosters for the vulnerable
Johnson also told MPs that changes to statutory sick pay and employment support allowance designed to help people through the coronavirus pandemic will end on March 24.
People aged 75 and over, the immunosuppressed and those living in care homes will be offered another Covid-19 booster vaccine this spring under the plans.
But free universal testing will be massively scaled back from April 1 and will instead be focused on the most vulnerable, with the UK Health Security Agency set to determine the details, while a degree of asymptomatic testing will continue in the most risky settings such as in social care.
The Department of Health and Social Care will receive no extra money to deliver the testing.