Boris Johnson has said he plans to remove all remaining coronavirus restrictions in England a month early.
“Providing the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions, including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive, a full month early,” the prime minister told MPs.
The current regulations were due to expire on 24 March.
PM plans to remove COVID rules later in February
Under Mr Johnson’s new aim, the rules will expire shortly after MPs return from February recess on 21 February.
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Opening Prime Minister’s Questions with the unexpected announcement, Mr Johnson said: “It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with COVID.
“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early.”
Downing Street later clarified that it would not recommend anyone go to work when they have coronavirus.
Asked if the change would mean people could go to work if they had COVID, the PM’s official spokesman said: “So there would be guidance, that would not be what we are recommending. What we would simply be doing is removing the domestic regulations which relate to isolation.
“But obviously in the same way that someone with flu, we wouldn’t recommend they go to work, we would never recommend anyone goes to work when they have an infectious disease.”
Former minister welcomes announcement
Former Brexit minister Lord Frost, who said he left Mr Johnson’s government at the end of last year due to “coercive policies on COVID”, welcomed the announcement.
“The PM’s plan to end all COVID restrictions a month early is the right thing to do and is extremely welcome. I hope the government will also make clear we will not go down the road of coercive lockdowns ever again.”
As of the end of last month, people with COVID-19 in England can end their self-isolation after five full days, as long as they test negative on day five and day six.
The shock announcement to end all domestic coronavirus restrictions in just two weeks’ time comes as the PM faces questions over his future in the job.
Mr Johnson is under pressure to apologise over his discredited claim that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer failed to prosecute Jimmy Savile.
The already simmering row blew up further on Monday night when Sir Keir was mobbed by the group near parliament.
He was bundled into the back of a nearby police car as officers escorted him to safety.
Labour leader confronted by mob
As he was confronted, the Labour leader faced aggressive shouts of “traitor” and accusations of having “let Jimmy Savile off” and of “protecting paedophiles”.
Although he condemned the behaviour of the group, Mr Johnson has continued to resist calls – including from among senior Conservatives – for him to retract his comments about Sir Keir.
The prime minister has, however, sought to “clarify” the remarks. His official spokesman said: “I think the prime minister was making a political point about taking responsibility for organisations as a whole.”
Meanwhile, members of Mr Johnson’s own party have submitted letters of no confidence in his leadership amid the ongoing partygate scandal.
The Metropolitan Police is currently completing a probe into lockdown-busting parties held in Downing Street and across Whitehall, after senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into the matter found there had been “failures of leadership and judgement”.
PM quizzed on cost of living crisis
Elsewhere in PMQs, Sir Keir accused the government’s financial support for household’s energy bills of being “a dodgy loan, not a proper loan”.
Last week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak says 80% of all homes in England will get a £150 discount on their council tax bill in April, while all domestic electricity customers will get £200 in October off their energy bills.
“The government is insulting people’s intelligence by pretending it’s giving them a discount, but it’s not, it’s a con. A buy now, pay later scheme, a dodgy loan, not a proper plan,” Sir Keir said.
The prime minister replied: “Our plan to tackle the cost of living is faster, more efficient and more generous than anything that they have set out.”
He continued: “Twenty-seven million homes, we’re giving them the equivalent of £150 rebate off their council (tax). Their (Labour’s) offer is for £89, ours is faster, more generous and more effective.”