During this evening’s Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister said today is the day we can “protect ourselves whilst restoring our liberties in full”.

Announcing a staggered end to mandatory self-isolation, contact tracing, free universal testing and Covid passports, as well as the removal of self-isolation support payments, Boris Johnson mapped out his “living with Covid” plan.

Medical and scientific experts Professor Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance were also present, here’s what they had to say.


Words of caution from Professor Sir Chris Whitty

England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty said the Omicron wave is “still high”, adding: “The rates are coming down but this is still a very common infection.”

New variants are expected, according to the epidemiologist, who said: “Some of those new variants will just disappear, but some of them will cause us significant problems.”

Even in the absence of significant new variants, Prof Whitty also raised concerns about managing Covid infections over the coming winters in conjunction with other respiratory illnesses such as flu.

He also made clear that although the end of mandatory self-isolation was coming in from Thursday (February 24), people should still voluntarily isolate if they have Covid-19.

He said: “As we look at the next weeks, we still have high rates of Omicron and I would urge people in terms of public health advice, and this is very much the Government’s position, that people should still if they have Covid try to prevent other people getting it and that means self-isolating.

Prof Whitty also said maximising ventilation, hand washing and using face masks in enclosed spaces with large numbers of people, remain important when there are significant numbers of cases.

He added good surveillance and the capacity to rapidly step up and protecting the most vulnerable are “the critical things that we need to maintain even beyond this next few weeks into the rest of this year and the rest of the way that we continue to manage this epidemic”.

Sir Patrick Vallance: “This pandemic is not over”

The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has said Covid will continue to evolve over the next couple of years.

In unison with Prof Whitty, he agreed there was no guarantee future variants would be less severe and it is essential to maintain a virus surveillance system along with the capacity to “ramp up” measures again quickly and to protect the vulnerable.

“This pandemic is not over. The virus is continuing to evolve. It will continue to do so quite fast probably for the next couple of years,” he said.

“There is no guarantee that the next variant is as reduced severity as Omicron. As is it evolves what it is trying to do is to transmit more readily.

“The change in severity is a random by-product. We expect there to be further variants and they could be more severe.”

No division between “gung-ho politicians” and “anxious scientists”

Mr Johnson was keen to express the government and the medical and scientific experts were in agreement, saying: “I don’t want you to think that there’s some division between the gung-ho politicians and the cautious, anxious scientists, much as it may suit everybody to say so.

“We have a very clear view of this. This has not gone away. We’re able to make these changes now because of the vaccines and the high level of immunity and all the other considerations about Omicron that you’ve seen.

“But we have to face the fact that there could be, likely will be, another variant that will cause us trouble.

“But I believe that thanks to a lot of the stuff that we’ve done, particularly investment in vaccines and vaccine technology and therapeutics, we’ll be in a far better position to tackle that new variant when it comes.”