Coronavirus isolation rule changes criticised by Dr Nagpaul
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Mr Johnson said on Monday that he would end all coronavirus curbs, including mandatory self-isolation for people with COVID-19 and free testing. The announcement has been met with scepticism from some scientists and political opponents.
The PM’s “living with COVID” plan has sparked alarm that it is premature and will leave the country vulnerable to new variants, but the government says it has provided more testing than most other countries and must now curb the cost.
SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford asked the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on Monday if he could explain which public health experts had advised abandoning testing and isolation and when the advice would be published.
The Prime Minister told her the Government consults a wide range of scientific opinion, but the decisions are for ministers to take, pointing out that cases and hospitalisations are falling with excess deaths from Omicron in “negative territory”.
Dr Whitford told The National: “Quite a few [public health experts are] saying: ‘Who on earth is advising this?’.
“In answer to me he said, ‘We spoke to Sage and the CSO [chief scientific officer] and the CMO [chief medical officer] but the ministers made the decision’. That implies to me that they may have asked them, but they may not have liked the answer.
“His response to me suggests that he doesn’t have public health advice to publish, which is why he’s not publishing it.”
The SNP MP then accused the Prime Minister of behaving “like a child hiding behind their hands”.
She added: “That’s how to summarise it – a child hiding behind their hands and thinking they can’t be seen and if they just ignore Covid, hopefully it will go away.”
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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s top Covid adviser Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at Edinburgh University, also waded in tweeting: “Which public health expert advised abandoning testing and isolation?
“Just remember UK govt Covid decisions are now driven by catching headlines & not in the interests of the health & well-being of the population.
“We can both recognise need to open up economy & society using vaccines/testing and seriousness of COVID as a disease.”
The devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own COVID-19 restrictions, but the amount of money they have to spend on testing will flow from decisions made by the UK government.
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Ms Sturgeon was scathing on Twitter, raging: “To allow significant dismantling of the testing infrastructure built up in last two years would be inexcusable negligence given ongoing risks.”
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said it would be premature and reckless to wind back the programme.
He added: “Testing has played a pivotal role in breaking chains of transmission and as a surveillance tool helping us detect and respond to emerging variants. It’s essential that this continues.”
Mr Johnson said that some coronavirus surveillance would stay in place – to allow for a rapid response to new variants – which could be quickly scaled up.
He cited the much-weakened link between COVID-19 cases and deaths due to vaccines, antivirals and the lower severity of the Omicron variant as informing his decision.
Mr Johnson said: “It is only because we know Omicron is less severe, that testing for Omicron on the colossal scale we have been doing is much less important and much less valuable in preventing serious illness.
“This came at a vast cost… We must now scale this back.”
Symptomatic testing is due to remain available for at-risk groups and social care staff.
From Thursday, and subject to Parliamentary approval, the Government will axe the legal obligation to isolate after a positive test.
However, the official public health advice will remain that people testing positive for Covid should stay at home for five days. This includes both adults and children. This guidance will not be enforced by law.
The Government will also no longer ask vaccinated contacts and those under 18 to test for seven days. It will also remove the legal requirement for contacts who are not vaccinated to self-isolate.
There will also be an end to routine contact tracing.
Free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing will end for the general public in England from April 1.
Remaining symptomatic testing will be focused on the most vulnerable, with the UK Health Security Agency set to determine the details. This is expected to include people over the age of 80 and the immunosuppressed.
A degree of asymptomatic testing will also be maintained in the most risky settings such as social care.
The Government expects a market for lateral flow devices to develop once boxes are no longer available for free on the NHS. Individual tests are expected to cost a few pounds.
To prevent stockpiling before April 1, people will only be able to order a box of tests on the NHS every three days instead of every 24 hours.
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