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Boris Johnson said England was exiting the “grimmest years in our peacetime” thanks to high vaccination rates and new drugs.
People are now no longer required to self-isolate if they test positive for the virus – although they are still advised to do so for at least five days.
Other changes ushered in yesterday include an end to routine contact tracing. Also, the £500 self-isolation support payment for people on low incomes who test positive has been scrapped. But Covid provisions for increased statutory sick pay will apply for a further month.
Further changes will come in on April 1, including the end of free mass testing.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid called Freedom Day an “important” next step in a new phase of the pandemic. He said: “We must never lose sight of the fact the rules and regulations we introduced were an extraordinary response to an extraordinary challenge, they were never intended to be the new normal.”
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Lobby Akinnola, spokesman for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “People will die directly because of the decision to scrap free testing.”
The changes, after more than 160,000 people in Britain died within 28 days of a positive test, are part of the Prime Minister’s Living with Covid plan, to “transition back to normality”.
But some critics say the plan fails to protect the vulnerable.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, called for free testing for key workers.
Doctors’ union the British Medical Association said the plan would cause “anxiety” for the most vulnerable and called for provisions to protect them.
All legal restrictions have been lifted in Northern Ireland, while Wales and Scotland are easing measures gradually.
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