UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is putting the country at the head of the pack of European nations in backing out of Coronavirus measures, announcing the forthcoming end of a raft of measures including compulsory masks as government figures show cases dropping nationwide.
Boris Johnson was met by raucous cheering from the government benches on Wednesday afternoon, prompting his Home Secretary to note, sotto voce, “you’ve been enthusiastically received”, as he announced, “once regulations lapse the government will no longer mandate the wearing of face masks anywhere”. Mr Johnson also told the house the legal requirement to self isolate with Coronavirus would also end in the future, comparing the anticipated situation to people voluntarily staying at home when they have ‘flu.
The Prime Minister has been accused of running a ‘red meat’ campaign of popular measures to placate plotting backbenchers who might move against his leadership in the wake of a series of lockdown-busting drinks party scandals, and the reaction at the surprise announcement may indicate that to some extent it is working.
While it had been widely anticipated that many coronavirus lockdown measures would be scrapped but mask mandates left in place today, the Prime Minister actually went further, saying rules that are due to expire next week on Thursday will not be renewed. The definite shift towards individual liberty is in direct contrast with many European nations where lockdown restrictions are in the process — even now — of being tightened further, not relaxed.
Boris Johnson said:
our scientists believe it is likely that the omicron wave has peaked nationally… hospital admissions which were doubling every nine days just two weeks have now stabilised, with admissions in London even falling, and the numbers in intensive care also falling… Having looked at the data carefully, the cabinet concluded that once regulations lapse the government will no longer mandate the wearing of face masks anywhere.
… As covid becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others.
"As Covid becomes endemic we will need to replace legal requirements with guidance urging people with the virus to be considerate of others"
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) January 19, 2022
There were qualifications in Johnson’s clearly intentionally upbeat rhetoric, however. While there was talk of the virus being endemic, the Prime Minister said there was still a pandemic and said “we must all remain cautious during these last weeks of winter”.
Other rules would remain in place as well, at least for now. While the Prime Minister said “we will trust the judgement of the British people and no longer criminalise anyone who chooses not to wear one”, the requirement for those who have tested positive for Coronavirus to self-isolate is not yet to be removed.
Nevertheless rolling that back was also discussed, albeit without firm commitment, as PM Johnson said: “there will soon come a time where can remove the requirement to self-isolate altogether, just as we don’t place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu.”
As things stand, the self-isolation regulations expire on the 24th of March.
The Prime Minister said the government would be publishing a ‘long term strategy for living with Covid-19’ which, he said, would have the intent of protecting “our liberty and avoid restrictions in future by relying instead on medical advances” such as vaccines.
UK government figures show the number of positive tests being recorded in the country have fallen considerably in recent days and are down over 38 per cent in the past week. The number of patients admitted to hospital with coronavirus has plateaued following a steep rise in early winter and is overall down three percent in the past week. The fall of cases reported in the UK hasn’t been so pronounced since mid-summer 2020.
While the UK appears ready to march out of lockdown and mask mandates, other European nations continue to intensify their own lockdowns. Italy, for instance is toughening the ‘green pass’ rules which restricts the places that only the certified vaccinated can visit including barbers, hairdressers, and beauticians. From February first, it will be expanded yet again to cover almost all shops except for essential stores like supermarkets and pharmacies, La Repubblica reports.
Pork Pie Putsch: How Some Tories are Plotting to Overthrow Boris Johnson https://t.co/bROBNNuJ4g
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) January 19, 2022
The coming elimination of mask mandates in the UK comes amid major struggles for the Prime Minister after revelations of lockdown-busting parties at Downing Street. It is claimed — and has been alleged in the Parliamentary chamber, including by SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford who claimed the relaxation of rules was specifically intended to deflect attention from his own woes — that the coming policies are “red meat” to placate critics.
The suite of policies includes the use of the Royal Navy in the English Channel seemingly in the hopes of getting a better handle of the ongoing migrant crisis, as well as the eventual scrapping of the controversial BBC Licence tax.
Johnson will also has to contend with an allegedly upcoming challenge to his leadership, with the so-called “Pork Pie Putsch” involving a number of MPs penning letters of no confidence in the hopes of outing the Prime Minister.
54 letters are needed to trigger a confidence vote for the Prime Minister’s leadership, with The Telegraph reporting the number of letters currently sent being in the 20s, according to Conservative Party Whips.
However, other party insiders estimate the amount already penned or being drafted to be significantly higher, with at least one MP having suggested that the 54 letter threshold will be met sometime on Wednesday.
“It’s going to happen,” Andrew Bridgen told GB News. “I think this will push over the 54 required to trigger a confidence motion vote.”