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Covid isolation rules to END in March as Bojo draws up plan to drop all remaining restrictions

The UK’s daily Covid cases dropped for the 13th day in a row today and hospital admissions have now started to trend downwards as it emerged Boris Johnson is drawing up plans to ditch all coronavirus laws from as early as March. 

There were 94,432 new positive tests across the country in the last 24 hours, Government dashboard data shows, which marked a 22 per cent fall compared to last Tuesday. Cases have fallen week-on-week on every day since January 6.

In more confirmation that the Omicron wave is subsiding, new figures show that hospital admissions from the virus have dropped for three days in a row nationally.

There were 1,892 admissions on January 14, the most recent date with data, which marked a 4 per cent decrease on the previous week. Admissions have been in dropping for weeks in London, which became the country’s Omicron epicentre last month.

Deaths continued to trend upwards today, however, with 438 registered in the last 24 hours — the most since late February 2021. 

There are currently an average of 270 Covid deaths per day in the UK now at what is believed to be the peak of the Omicron wave – a far cry from the 1,200 at the worst of Alpha last January.

The promising statistics come as a senior Government source claimed ministers are seriously considering abandoning all legally-binding curbs in England and moving to a guidance-based system.

The official claimed even the most basic rules could go, such as compulsory self-isolation of cases and the requirement to co-operate with Test and Trace. 

Emergency Covid laws brought in at the start of the pandemic are due to expire in March if they are not renewed as part of a timetable set out before Omicron hit.  

Ministers are already planning to ditch Plan B curbs brought in last month to fight the highly-transmissible variant, with Covid passports and WFH guidance expected to be scrapped later this month. 

Health Secretary Sajid Javid today revealed he is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that the final Plan B curbs can be ‘substantially reduced’ next week when ministers review No10’s next steps. 

Mr Johnson is said to have taken huge confidence from the country’s collapsing case numbers and flatlining hospital rates that the UK can safely live with Covid. 

He will finalise the plans to let coronavirus laws expire over the coming weeks, with an announcement on which measurers will be dropped expected in March, according to the Guardian.

The embattled PM has laid out a number of other Tory-friendly policies to appease backbench MPs as he faces calls to resign over parties in No10 during lockdown.

It came as Nicola Sturgeon finally agreed to lift remaining Covid restrictions brought in to combat the Omicron variant, admitting the country was on the ‘downward slope’ of infections.

From next Monday, January 24, bars and restaurants will no longer only be able to serve customers seated at tables, while social distancing will also be removed. Nightclubs will also be allowed to reopen as she sweeps away restrictions in place since before Christmas, while plans to extend the Covid passport scheme have been scrapped.

Attendance limits on indoor events will also be lifted – bringing them into line with outdoor events in a move that came into effect yesterday. However baseline coronavirus measures in place before the Omicron wave will remain, including masks are still legally required indoors and on public transport.

Boris Johnson (pictured today talking to staff during a visit to the Finchley Memorial Hospital in North London) is drawing up plans to ditch all Covid laws from as early as March as the under-fire PM tries to win over his backbenchers

Boris Johnson (pictured today talking to staff during a visit to the Finchley Memorial Hospital in North London) is drawing up plans to ditch all Covid laws from as early as March as the under-fire PM tries to win over his backbenchers

Professor Mike Tildesley, a University of Warwick academic and leading government adviser, said the latest Covid  figures were ‘cautiously good news’

Professor Mike Tildesley, a University of Warwick academic and leading government adviser, said the latest Covid  figures were ‘cautiously good news’

The source told the paper it would be ‘perverse’ for emergency Covid laws to remain in place for longer than two years since the start of the pandemic.

Plans to loosen Plan B curbs are already being finalised, with Mr Javid saying today he is ‘cautiously optimistic’ an announcement will be made next week.

The Health Secretary told the Commons: ‘Eight weeks ago when this House last met, the world had not even heard of the Omicron variant. Yet since then we have seen a third of the UK’s total number of Covid cases recorded.

END OF MASS VACCINATIONS? 4TH COVID JAB GIVES ‘LITTLE’ BENEFIT 

Even a fourth dose of a Covid vaccine isn’t enough to stop people getting infected with Omicron, according to the preliminary results of a trial.

The study of more than 270 medical staff in Israel found the fourth shot only raised antibodies ‘a little’ compared to those who were triple-vaccinated. Participants given four doses were only ‘a bit less’ likely to test positive for the mutant strain than those who had received three. 

The findings were true for both Pfizer and Moderna, and will reignite the debate about whether constant boosting is necessary. 

Researchers from the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, who ran the trial, said those who became infected had very mild symptoms or none at all. 

Author Dr Gili Regev-Yochay told a press conference: ‘These are very preliminary results. This is before any publication. But we’re giving it out since we understand the urgency of the public to get any information possible about the fourth dose.’ 

The results came as a UK Government adviser today became the latest senior figure to warn against repeated mass vaccinations, recommending a targeted approach like for flu.

And last week, European Union regulators claimed boosting too frequently could actually weaken the immune system.

The World Health Organization has called on vaccine makers to make variant-proof jabs to avoid countries having to revaccinate every few months. 

Dr Regev-Yochay said the decision to give the fourth vaccine to over-60s and immunocompromised patients in Israel last month was the right one. 

But she admitted the small extra benefit was not enough to justify a wider rollout to the whole adult population. 

‘Despite increased antibody levels, the fourth vaccine only offers a partial defense against the virus,’ she told a press conference.

‘We see an increase in antibodies, higher than after the third dose. However, we see many infected with Omicron who received the fourth dose.

‘Granted, a bit less than in the control group, but still a lot of infections.

‘The bottom line is that the vaccine is excellent against the Alpha and Delta [variants], for Omicron it’s not good enough.’

‘The action this Government has taken in response to Omicron and the collective efforts of the British people have seen us become the most boosted country in Europe, the most tested country in Europe, and the most antivirals per head in Europe.

‘That is why we are the most open country in Europe.

‘I have always said that these restrictions should not stay in place a day longer than absolutely necessary.

‘Due to these pharmaceutical defences and the likelihood that we have already reached the peak of the case numbers of hospitalisations, I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to substantially reduce restrictions next week.’

Covid passes for large indoor venues and widespread WFH guidance are expected to be ditched but masks in shops and on public transport could stay for a little while longer.     

The Government has taken confidence in the collapsing Covid numbers and widening disconnect between cases and serious illness.  

Mr Johnson is said to be keen to ditch the measures — which nearly 100 Tories voted against last month — to win back the support of his backbenchers.

He is facing anger within his party over a boozy garden party that happened in the garden of No10 on May 20, 2020, at the height of the first lockdown.

The scandal deepened last night as Mr Johnson’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings said the PM was warned in advance that the party was illegal.

Mr Johnson has launched a string of populist policy announcements this week in an attempt to save his premiership – including tougher rules on Channel crossings and a freeze on the BBC license fee. 

While some experts have said that downgrading Covid laws could be dangerous for the NHS, others say it is the logical next step. 

The World Health Organization warned leaders against making ‘premature promises’ about when restrictions will end.

Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy on Covid, told BBC Breakfast: ‘I’m a public health person… I would not be making promises some time in the future because, once you make a promise, it’s super hard then to change what you’re going to do – you feel you’re kind of doing a U-turn.

‘This virus is constantly evolving and it’s super hard to predict where it will be – we can say where we hope we’re going to go, we can say where we’d like to go, we can say what we think we need to do to get there – but making promises that we’ll do something on a particular date, I think, is unwise.’

Dr Nabarro reiterated his view that the situation in the UK ‘gives us grounds for hope’ but continued to urge caution.

‘The goal that we’re all aiming for is a situation where this virus is present, but life is organised so that it is not disrupted,’ he said.

‘We also need to be humble, this virus is continuing to evolve and we’re never quite sure that we know exactly where it’s going to go next.’

But one of the Government’s scientific advisers said future variants were likely to be as mild or milder than Omicron.

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of SAGE, told Times Radio: ‘It doesn’t do the virus any good to become increasingly severe.

‘In fact, it looks like the Omicron variant, by becoming more transmissible, that it’s also become less severe, and we would hope that’s the general direction of travel.’ 

Nicola Sturgeon FINALLY removes Scotland’s Omicron-related restrictions 

Nicola Sturgeon finally agreed to lift remaining Covid restrictions briught in to combat the Omicron variant, admitting the country was on the ‘downward slope’ of infections.

From next Monday, January 24, bars and restaurants will no longer only be able to serve customers seated at tables, while social distancing will also be removed. 

Nightclubs will also be allowed to reopen as she sweeps away restrictions in place since before Christmas, while plans to extend the Covid passport scheme have been scrapped.

Attendance limits on indoor events will also be lifted – bringing them into line with outdoor events in a move that came into effect yesterday. 

However baseline coronavirus measures in place before the Omicron wave will remain, including masks are still legally required indoors and on public transport.

The First Minister also announced the Scottish Government would not be expanding its vaccine certification scheme into new venues with the Tories demanding it be scrapped entirely.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament today, Ms Sturgeon said  statistics showed a ‘significant fall’ in new cases, though the NHS remained under ‘acute pressure’. 

She said: ‘Taking all of this into account, and triangulating the various sources of data, allows us to say with some confidence that the rise in cases driven by Omicron peaked in the first week of January and that we are now on the downward slope of this wave of cases.’ 

 

Professor Hayward said he agreed the pandemic was coming to ‘an end’ and people will live with the virus with ‘much less disruption’.

He added: ‘It will tend to, I think, settle into a seasonal pattern – we may still get quite big winters of infection but not the sort of level where we can justify wholesale societal closedown.

‘So, I think it is genuinely an optimistic picture, but we’re still not quite there yet.’ 

Meanwhile, questions are being raised about whether mass booster jab campaigns should continue as the world learns to live with Covid.

The debate has been reignited after a study in Israel found that even a fourth dose isn’t enough to stop people getting infected with Omicron.

The trial of more than 270 medical staff l found the fourth shot only raised antibodies ‘a little’ compared to those who were triple-vaccinated. 

Participants given four doses were only ‘a bit less’ likely to test positive for the mutant strain than those who had received three. 

The findings were true for both Pfizer and Moderna.

Dr Gili Regev-Yochav, the lead researcher at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, said the small extra benefit was not enough to justify a rollout to the whole adult population.

It came as Nicola Sturgeon finally agreed to lift remaining Covid restrictions brought in to combat the Omicron variant, admitting the country was on the ‘downward slope’ of infections.

From next Monday, January 24, bars and restaurants will no longer only be able to serve customers seated at tables, while social distancing will also be removed. 

Nightclubs will also be allowed to reopen as she sweeps away restrictions in place since before Christmas, while plans to extend the Covid passport scheme have been scrapped.

Attendance limits on indoor events will also be lifted – bringing them into line with outdoor events in a move that came into effect yesterday. 

However baseline coronavirus measures in place before the Omicron wave will remain, including masks are still legally required indoors and on public transport.

The First Minister also announced the Scottish Government would not be expanding its vaccine certification scheme into new venues with the Tories demanding it be scrapped entirely.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament today, Ms Sturgeon said  statistics showed a ‘significant fall’ in new cases, though the NHS remained under ‘acute pressure’. 

She said: ‘Taking all of this into account, and triangulating the various sources of data, allows us to say with some confidence that the rise in cases driven by Omicron peaked in the first week of January and that we are now on the downward slope of this wave of cases.’ 

Ms Sturgeon added: ‘From Monday we will also lift the guidance asking people to stick to a three-household limit on indoor gatherings.

‘However, it is important to stress this point: notwithstanding the improving situation, the level of Covid infection circulating in the community is still high. So to minimise the risk of us getting the virus it would be sensible for all of us to remain cautious in our social interactions at this stage.’ 

She continued: ‘We will continue to ask people to work from home whenever possible at this stage – and for employers to facilitate this.

‘However, we will engage with business now about a return to a more hybrid approach from the start of February.’

Scotland recorded another 31 coronavirus deaths, as well as 7,752 more cases of people being infected with the virus.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the latest figures in a statement to Holyrood.

The cases were confirmed on Monday through both PCR and lateral flow tests, she told MSPs.

The latest deaths takes the total of people who have died within 28 days of contracting coronavirus to 10,0093 in Scotland.

Meanwhile the number of people in has fallen by 21 to 1,546, with 59 people in intensive care, a rise of one.

This total includes 17 people who have been in ICU for more than 28 days, Ms Sturgeon said.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: ‘The First Minister’s statement did begin a sea change in the government’s policy, starting to shift from a rules-based approach more towards trusting the Scottish public, as we were pushing for.

‘Yesterday we called for an end to most Covid restrictions because the data shows that we are past the peak of Omicron.

‘Most of what we’ve called for has been met – but the government insists on keeping some Covid restrictions in place beyond the necessary point to keep the public safe.’

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