Boris Johnson has urged the public to remain cautious after announcing he is stripping away the last Covid restrictions.
The prime minister warned a new variant worse than Omicron could emerge, saying the country cannot ‘declare victory’ yet at a press conference tonight.
Meanwhile, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty advised that infected people who have tested positive still self-isolate as the Omicron wave is ‘still high’.
It will no longer be a legal requirement to self-isolate from Thursday as government guidance in England focuses on ‘personal responsibility’.
Lateral flow test kits will also no longer be offered to the majority of households for free from April 1.
Ministers have been accused of ‘ignoring’ the vulnerable, amid warnings that poorer communities will find it difficult to follow guidance as statutory sick pay provisions are also set to be removed.
But Mr Johnson insisted the country was following the right path on Monday evening.
Addressing the nation from Downing Street, he said: ‘Today is not the day we can declare victory over Covid because this virus is not going away.
‘But it is the day when all the efforts of the last two years finally enable us to protect ourselves whilst restoring our liberties in full.
‘After two of the darkest, grimmest years in our peacetime history I do believe this is a moment of pride for our nation and a source of hope for all that we can achieve in the years to come.’
He added: ‘We should be clear that the pandemic is not over. There may be significant resurgences.
‘Our scientists are certain that there will be new variants and it is very possible that those will be worse than Omicron.
‘So we will continue to protect the most vulnerable with targeted vaccinations and treatments.’
Professor Whitty noted that some new variants may be more ‘vaccine escaping’ and ‘could be more severe’.
‘We could certainly end up with something that is more likely to lead to hospitalisations than Omicron’, he said.
‘[The number of people with omicron] would have been higher if people had not been careful not to transfer it to others. This would have been a lot worse.’
Next winter is likely to combine Covid, flu and other respiratory illnesses, the top scientist cautioned.
But he said the easing of restrictions was ‘a steady move’ over a period of time, adding: ‘This is not a sudden everything stops’.
Urging the public to continue to be careful, Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance offered a quote that said: ‘You can celebrate when the sun’s shining – but take your umbrella with you.’
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