'Plan B' curbs could start to be lifted at end of this month

End of work from home by February? Boris pushes for Plan B restrictions to be lifted from end of this month as civil servants admit they misled ministers over 5-day quarantine

  • Covid restrictions could start to be lifted this month after Michael Gove said we could ‘live with’ the virus  
  • Plan B was imposed last month in response to Omicron and includes WFH guidance, masks and Covid passes 
  • The UK Health Security Agency has admitted that they misled ministers over the five-day quarantine  
  • Downing Street played down expectations that Boris Johnson is poised to publish a Covid exit strategy

Covid restrictions could start to be lifted this month, after Michael Gove said Britain was moving towards a situation where it could ‘live with’ the virus.

The Plan B measures were imposed last month in response to the Omicron variant and include guidance on WFH and legal requirements for masks and Covid passes in certain venues.

Downing Street is examining options to lift them in stages if cases remain too high to remove them all in one go. Extending Covid passes, due to expire on January 26, would require another bruising clash with Tory backbenchers, which No10 wants to avoid.

But some ministers are pushing for the WFH guidance to be removed first, arguing that it causes the most damage to the economy.

The Prime Minister has asked the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to look again at whether the self-isolation period could be relaxed from seven days to five to ease crippling staff shortages in the economy and public services.

In an extraordinary twist, the UKHSA yesterday admitted it had issued misleading claims about the way Britain’s rules compare to other countries.  

Mr Gove, who has consistently argued for the toughest curbs, yesterday warned that there were ‘difficult weeks ahead’ for the NHS as the virus surges outside London. But he said there would be ‘better times ahead’ once the current surge in cases has passed.

‘There are other coronaviruses which are endemic and with which we live – viruses tend to develop in a way whereby they become less harmful but more widespread,’ he said.

‘So, guided by the science, we can look to the progressive lifting of restrictions and, I think for all of us, the sooner the better. But we have got to keep the NHS safe.’

In other Covid developments: 

  • The Met Police are ‘liaising’ with a Cabinet Office investigation into alleged lockdown-busting parties at Downing Street during the first Covid lockdown; 
  • A bombshell email leaked last night proved that Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds invited more than 100 staff to bring their own drinks to No10’s lavish gardens on May 20, 2020 to ‘make the most of the lovely weather’;
  • Data shows Covid infections in London have ticked up in under-30s since New Year’s Eve, but have started to fall in over-60s;
  • More NHS cancer patients will be treated in private hospitals under a deal struck with the sector to ‘safeguard’ against the staff absence crisis; 
  • Clive Watson, chairman of the City Pub Group, questioned the continuing WFH guidance and said the review of measures is a ‘very good opportunity’ to change them; 
  • Mr Johnson has insisted he and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are looking at ways of easing the cost of living crisis as the economy struggles to recover from Covid. 

Plan B restrictions could start to be lifted this month, as Michael Gove (pictured in parliament on January 10) said Britain was moving towards a situation where it could ‘live with Covid’

To work out flu deaths, the UK Health Security Agency — formerly Public Health England — estimates them using a statistical model, which looks at the prevalence of flu and excess winter fatalities. The cumulative number of fatalities was estimated to be in the region of 15,000 in 2016/17, with about 300 people dying every day at the peak. In 2017/18, during the Aussie flu outbreak, a total of 22,000 people were killed by influenza, with in excess of 400 dying per day at the worst of the epidemic. But in 2018/19 just 4,000 were estimated to have died to the virus, with just tens of people dying per day at the peak

How flu and Covid compare to other leading causes of death: Cancer is the biggest killer, taking around 166,000 lives every year, followed by dementia and heart disease. Covid has killed More than 150,000 Britons since the pandemic took off but it is expected to settle down and become an endemic illness in the coming years

Covid infections in the UK fell again today and hospitalisations stayed flat as pressure grew on the Prime Minister to release plans on how the country can safely live with the virus.

UK Health Security Agency bosses logged 142,224 positive tests, marking a week-on-week drop for the fifth day in a row. Infections in London — the first region to be battered by Omicron — plunged to their lowest levels in nearly a month, with rates now dropping in over-60s.

Another 77 deaths were registered within 28 days of testing positive, marking a 83 per cent rise on the figure last Monday. But that figure only covered fatalities in England due to the holiday, and the overall trend has barely risen ever since the ultra-transmissible variant took off.     

Meanwhile, hospitalisations rose by just three per cent in a week, with the trend having finally flattened off after three weeks of steep increases. Rates in London fell again.

Both the government and NHS leaders are increasingly confident that Omicron will not overwhelm services, and even experts today claimed that there was light at the end of the tunnel as ministers admitted Britain is on a path to ‘living with’ the virus. 

MailOnline analysis shows daily Covid deaths are currently running at less than half the rate expected in a bad flu year, in another sign the UK is finally on the brink of beating the pandemic.

Dr David Nabarro, of the World Health Organisation, said coronavirus would pose a very difficult situation for the next three months ‘at least’ but insisted ‘we can see the end in sight’. 

 

Mr Gove, who helped persuade Boris Johnson to impose Plan B, admitted he had been wrong to push for even tighter restrictions over Christmas.

He acknowledged he had been ‘at the more cautious end of the spectrum’ and said the PM had been right to overrule him.

‘His judgment has been vindicated,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘He argued publicly that we would be able to get through this with the booster campaign.’

Downing Street yesterday played down expectations the PM is poised to publish a Covid exit strategy, which could include winding up the test-and-trace system, ending self-isolation rules and charging for tests.

A Government source said: ‘I think that sort of idea is very premature. We have got another few weeks of difficulty.’

But officials are targeting the spring for the possible lifting of all restrictions. Funding for free lateral flow tests is due to expire at the end of March, with self-isolation laws lapsing at the same time.

Although the measures could be renewed, ministers are increasingly optimistic they could be lifted at that point. Mr Gove added: ‘We are moving to a situation where it is possible to say we can live with Covid, and that the pressure on the NHS and on vital public services is abating.’

Professor Graham Medley, a member of the Government’s Sage committee, said: ‘At some point it will have to stop being an emergency but that is likely to be a phase-out rather than an active point in time where somebody can declare the epidemic over.’

Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, leader of the Covid Recovery Group of Conservatives, warned Mr Johnson that if he sought to extend the measures he could face a revolt even larger than the 100 Conservatives who defied him when they were first introduced in December.

He said: ‘The Prime Minister sort of wants to agree with the backbenches, that we have to be realistic about living with Covid, then says he wants to keep restrictions in reserve. This is becoming an unsustainable position.’

Ministers had repeatedly cited the false advice in recent days when explaining why Government was moving so slowly on the issue.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid was last night said to be angered by the blunder, with aides saying he was ‘frustrated’ by the agency’s mistake. 

And it emerged the UKHSA had not even examined the case for moving to five days until now as it wrongly believed the idea had little chance of being ‘adopted as policy’.

Tory MPs last night called for a public apology from the quango, which is led by the former deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries who was awarded a damehood in the New Year honours.

Government sources said the Prime Minister was now trying to ‘change the conversation’ on the issue but stressed that quarantine would only be cut if scientists approve the move as being safe. 

The Daily Mail can reveal that a string of other senior ministers are also pushing for the move, including Mr Javid and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Speaking on a visit to a vaccine centre yesterday, Mr Johnson said the Government would keep issuing lateral flow tests ‘as long as they are important’, and added: ‘There is a similar argument to be had about the quarantine period – whether to come down from seven to five days. The thing to do is to look at the science.’

Asked whether he agrees with Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi that cutting the quarantine period would be helpful, he said: ‘Yes, of course. We are looking at that and we will act according to the science.’

In a blog post on January 1, the UKHSA said people were ‘not comparing like to like’ when looking at the self-isolation advice in the UK and US.

Prof Graham Medley (pictured), a member of the Government’s Sage committee has said that at some point Covid will have to stop being an emergency but that it will likely be phased out

A total of 25 out of 137 NHS Trusts in England have declared critical incidents — or 17.5 per cent. Above are the trusts that have publicly announced they have declared these incidents to help them manage winter pressures

The above graph shows infection rates in under-60s in London since late November. It reveals that while rates are highest in 20 to 35-year-olds, there has recently been an uptick among children and their parents 

The above graph shows Covid cases among over-60s and under-60s in London. Cases have now plateaued in the younger age group in a sign that the worst of London’s Omicron crisis may not be over

It said while isolation in the UK starts from the emergence of the first symptoms, in the US the advice is to self-isolate for five days once you get a positive test ‘which may be some days after the first symptoms’.

Yesterday the quango admitted it had been wrong. It said the US authorities had ‘clarified’ their advice on January 4 but it offered no explanation as to why its own advice had remained unchanged for a further six days.

Conservative MPs called for a public apology from the quango. Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘This is yet another example of the bad, exaggerated advice that ministers have been receiving and that has been holding the country back.

‘The difference between five and seven days is critical to maintaining services in hospitals, schools and the economy.’ Former Cabinet minister David Davis said: ‘This demonstrates why scientific advisers have to be very careful about basing their advice on facts rather than pessimistic guesswork.

‘If one of our aims is to protect the health service, sending people home for an unnecessary length of time does not help patients or other health service workers.

‘We need to see the hard data that justifies this, on a more established basis than their inaccurate assertions for the last few weeks.’

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen called for an apology, adding: ‘This mistake has put the NHS and critical industries under severe pressure. It is the sort of basic information which politicians and the British public and employers would expect them to get right.’

On the potential reduction to the self-isolation period, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘If it is possible to go further, we’d want to act quickly but it needs to be based on the latest evidence and that work is still ongoing.

‘We certainly haven’t received any further updated advice.’ 

Covid is now killing HALF as many people per day as a bad flu year as experts say pandemic will be on the brink of becoming ‘endemic’ after Omicron wave subsides

Daily Covid deaths are currently running at less than half the rate expected in a bad flu year, MailOnline analysis suggests as experts claim the UK is finally on the brink of beating the pandemic.

There are growing calls for No10 to learn to live with Covid rather than focus on halting the spread of the virus now there is such a big disconnect between infections and deaths.

Right now just 130 people are dying from the coronavirus every day in England at what is believed to be the peak of the Omicron outbreak, compared to 1,300 last January before vaccines were widely available.

Daily deaths have barely moved since the start of autumn, despite infection rates more than quadrupling over the same time following the emergence of the ultra-transmissible variant.

To work out flu deaths, the UK Health Security Agency — formerly Public Health England — estimates them using a statistical model, which looks at the prevalence of flu and excess winter fatalities. The cumulative number of fatalities was estimated to be in the region of 15,000 in 2016/17, with about 300 people dying every day at the peak. In 2017/18, during the Aussie flu outbreak, a total of 22,000 people were killed by influenza, with in excess of 400 dying per day at the worst of the epidemic. But in 2018/19 just 4,000 were estimated to have died to the virus, with just tens of people dying per day at the peak

How flu and Covid compare to other leading causes of death: Cancer is the biggest killer, taking around 166,000 lives every year, followed by dementia and heart disease. Covid has killed More than 150,000 Britons since the pandemic took off but it is expected to settle down and become an endemic illness in the coming years

For comparison, Government estimates show there were more than 400 influenza deaths per day at the peak of the last bad flu season in 2017/18, and almost 300 daily fatalities the previous year. Just like this winter, hospitals were forced to cancel routine operations and patients were told to steer clear of A&E units during both of those outbreaks.

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert from the University of East Anglia, said the figures showed that the burden of Covid is now comparable to flu. He told MailOnline Covid would ‘almost certainly’ get weaker every year as people develop natural immunity and eventually become a common cold that kills only the very vulnerable further down the line.

‘Once we’re past this Omicron peak — excluding another unexpected variant that reverses all of our progress — then we’ll be close to the point of endemic,’ Professor Hunter added.

His comments come after Dr Clive Dix, the former chief of the UK’s vaccine taskforce, called for a return to a ‘new normality’ and for Covid to be treated like the flu now that they have a similar death rate.

Police are ‘liaising’ with Cabinet office probe as Boris REFUSES to say if he and Carrie attended BYOB party at No 10 – after leaked email PROVES they and 100 Downing Street staff were invited while general public could only meet one other person outdoors

The Met Police are ‘liaising’ with a Cabinet Office investigation into alleged lockdown-busting parties at Downing Street during the first Covid lockdown.

A bombshell email leaked last night proved that Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds invited more than 100 staff to bring their own drinks to No10’s lavish gardens on May 20, 2020 to ‘make the most of the lovely weather’.

At the time, only two people were allowed to socialise outside while at least two metres apart under national Covid curbs.

On a visit to his constituency yesterday, Boris Johnson ducked questions about whether he attended the May 20 garden party, merely insisting it was a matter for Sue Gray, the senior official leading an investigation into allegations of lockdown-busting parties across Whitehall.

However, ITV News alleges that around 40 staff met for drinks and food from 6pm that evening — including the PM and his wife Carrie. Mr Johnson’s ex-chief aide Dominic Cummings continues to claim that the couple were both there.

Scotland Yard has now confirmed that they are now ‘in contact with the Cabinet Office’ over reports of the drinks party. The force is thought to be waiting to see if Ms Gray’s inquiry identifies rule-breaking before considering whether further action is needed, The Times reports.

The Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds invited more than 100 staff to bring their own drinks to No10’s lavish gardens on May 20, 2020 to ‘make the most of the lovely weather’, an email leaked to ITV News shows 

On a visit to his constituency, Boris Johnson ducked questions about whether he attended the May 20 garden party, merely insisting it was a matter for Sue Gray, the senior official leading an investigation into allegations of lockdown-busting parties across Whitehall 

A spokesman for the Met said: ‘The Metropolitan Police Service is aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on May 20 2020 and is in contact with the Cabinet Office.’

Mr Reynolds’s email said: ‘Hi all, after what has been an incredibly busy period it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!’.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘Boris Johnson has consistently shown that he has no regard for the rules he puts in place for the rest of us.’

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey thundered: ‘This is yet more evidence that while the vast majority of people were sticking to the rules, those in No 10 were breaking them. To add insult to injury, on the very same day that the Culture Secretary said people could only meet in pairs outdoors, it seems Boris Johnson’s staff were holding a boozy party in Downing Street.’

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