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England is about to drop virtually all anti-COVID restrictions

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London — Most legal restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in England will be dropped next week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the British Parliament on Wednesday. From Monday, face masks will no longer be mandatory anywhere in England.

"Our scientists believe it is likely that the Omicron wave has now peaked nationally," Johnson said, attributing the end of the most recent COVID-19 surge to "the extraordinary [vaccine] booster campaign, together with the way the public have responded" to the restrictions brought in when Omicron hit.

The restrictions being lifted on Monday in England were some of the least stringent imposed across Europe to counter the Omicron wave. They include a requirement for face masks to be worn in crowded indoor spaces, mandatory COVID-19 passes — which show vaccination status or a recent negative test — to enter large venues, and guidance to work from home where possible.  

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The premier said his government hoped to lift the only remaining legal requirement, for anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate for at least five days, before it lapses automatically in March. 

"To make that possible," he said, "we must all remain cautious during these last weeks of winter.. The pandemic is not over."

Despite case numbers remaining high in the U.K., the number of new daily infections has decreased by 38.9% over the last week. The number of hospital admissions related to COVID-19 has also started to drop

"Many nations across Europe have endured further winter lockdowns," Johnson said, "but this government took a different path." 

The aim of the measures was to slow transmission of the virus to buy time for the government to provide vaccine boosters to as much of the British public as possible.

With about two-thirds of eligible Britons now boosted, Johnson said it was time to drop the restrictions. 

As COVID-19 becomes endemic in the U.K. rather than an epidemic, Johnson said the rules would be replaced with guidance or advice.

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