Boris Johnson has said scrapping requirements for people to self-isolate if they have Covid is a “moment of pride” as he prepares to remove restrictions that have been in place since the start of the pandemic.
The prime minister’s cabinet is expected to confirm the policy change on Monday, which will make it legal for people to mix with other members of the public, such as getting on a crowded train, while having the virus for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
MPs will be updated on the decision in the House of Commons in the afternoon, with a general press conference expected to follow for the wider public.
Mr Johnson said the proposal would be about “finally giving people back their freedom” after “one of the most difficult periods in our country’s history”.
The prime minister’s announcement comes just 24 hours after it was announced that the Queen, who is 95 years old, had caught coronavirus.
As well as scrapping the requirement to self-isolate, the government’s “living with Covid” plan, to be unveiled tomorrow, is also expected to roll back the availability of free coronavirus tests for all.
The move to lift all restrictions and end free testing has been critcised by the government’s scientific advisers who have said it could fuel a sharp rise in Covid infections.
A sub-committee of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said transmission could increase by between 25 per cent and 80 per cent if people “return to pre-pandemic behaviours” without any mitigations in place.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he was “particularly concerned” about the change on testing, stating: “It’s a bit like being one up with 10 minutes left to play and subbing your best defender.
“We are not out of the woods yet on Covid. It’s important that when the government publishes its plan for living with Covid tomorrow that is a robust plan that enables everyone to live well with Covid.”
He said keeping the tests would help people “live well with Covid without impacting on people’s lives, livelihoods and liberties”.
But Mr Johnson told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme that the UK had spent around £2bn on testing in January alone. He suggested such high expenditure was not sustainable.
Speaking before his announcement on Monday, the prime minister said: “Today will mark a moment of pride after one of the most difficult periods in our country’s history as we begin to learn to live with Covid.
“It would not be possible without the efforts of so many – the NHS who delivered the life-saving vaccine rollout at phenomenal speed, our world-leading scientists and experts, and the general public for their commitment to protecting themselves and their loved ones.
“The pandemic is not over but thanks to the incredible vaccine rollout we are now one step closer towards a return to normality and finally giving people back their freedoms while continuing to protect ourselves and others.”
As of Sunday, UK government data suggests that 11,555 people are currently in hospital beds with the illness, with 331 of those under ventilation.