PM Statement at Covid Press Conference: 21 February 2022
Good evening, when the pandemic started, we knew little about this virus and none about the vaccines and treatments we have today.
So there was no choice but to use government regulations to protect our NHS and save lives.
But these restrictions on our freedoms have cost our economy, our society and our children’s opportunities dearly.
So, from the start, we were clear that we needed to chart a path back to normality as quickly as possible, developing the vaccines and treatments that could gradually replace these restrictions.
And in what is perhaps the greatest national peacetime effort in our history, that is exactly what we have done.
Thanks to our brilliant scientists.
Thanks to the amazing men and women of our NHS and all of you who showed up to get shot and boosted – the UK became the first country in the world to give an approved vaccine, and the fastest major European nation to deploy both the vaccines and the booster to half our population.
We emerged from the teeth of the pandemic before many others, maintaining one of the most open economies and societies in Europe and the fastest growing in the G7 last year.
And although the pandemic is not over, we have passed the peak of the Omicron wave, with cases falling and hospitalizations in England now below 10,000 and still falling, and so we now have the chance to complete this transition to normality, while maintaining contingencies to respond to a resurgence or a new variant.
As we have done over the past two years, we will continue to work with devolved administrations as they decide how to move their own plans forward.
In England, we will remove all remaining national restrictions in law.
From this Thursday it will no longer be legal to self-isolate if you test positive, and so we will also end the provision of self-isolation support payments, although statutory sick pay may always be claimed for an additional month.
If you are a fully vaccinated close contact or are under 18, you will no longer be required to test daily for seven days.
And if you are a close contact who is not fully vaccinated, you will no longer be required to self-isolate.
Until April 1, we will still advise you to stay home if you test positive.
But after that, we will encourage people with Covid symptoms to exercise personal responsibility, just as we encourage people who may have the flu to be considerate of others.
It is only because immunity levels are so high and deaths are now, if any, below what you would normally expect for this time of year that we can lift these restrictions.
And that’s only because we know Omicron is less serious than the colossal scale tests of Omicron we’ve done are now much less useful in preventing serious illness.
We should be proud that the UK has established the largest testing program per person of any major country in the world.
But its budget in the last financial year was bigger than the Home Office – and it cost – the testing program cost – £2billion in the last month alone.
We must therefore reduce and prioritize our resources for the most vulnerable.
From today, staff and students in most education and childcare settings will no longer be asked to perform asymptomatic testing twice a week.
And starting April 1, we will end free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public.
But we will continue to provide free symptomatic testing to those most at risk of Covid.
And in line with practice in many other countries, we are working with retailers to ensure you will still be able to purchase a test.
We must be clear, the pandemic is not over and there could be significant resurgences.
Our scientists are certain that there will be new variants and it is very possible that these will be worse than Omicron.
We will therefore continue to protect the most vulnerable with targeted vaccinations and treatments and have purchased enough vaccine doses to anticipate a wide range of possible JCVI recommendations.
Today, that includes a new Spring Booster, which will be offered to people aged 75 and over, elderly residents of nursing homes and people over 12 who are immunocompromised.
We will also maintain disease surveillance systems and emergency measures that can ensure our resilience in the face of future waves or new variants.
And we will build on the innovations that have defined the best of our response to the pandemic, including continuing the work of the Vaccine Task Force, which has already won contracts with manufacturers testing new vaccines that may provide protection. against new variants.
Today is not the day we can declare victory over Covid, because this virus is not going away.
But this is the day when all the efforts of the past two years have finally allowed us to protect ourselves while fully restoring our freedoms.
And after two of the darkest and darkest years in our peacetime history, I believe this is a proud moment for our nation and a source of hope for all that we can achieve in the years to come. to come.
Thanks very much.