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expert reaction to the Prime Minister saying remaining COVID restrictions (including self-isolation law) may be lifted this month

The Prime Minister told MPs that final restrictions could be lifted later this month.


Dr Rachel McCloy, Associate Professor in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading, said:

“From a behavioural science perspective, the shift to removing the legal requirement to isolate if you have had a positive test is a concerning one, that comes with a range of risks. Although we know that most people have followed guidance to be responsible – continuing to wear masks and taking precautions by using lateral flow tests even during periods where they have not been required to do so in law – for those who have been more resistant this change risks signalling they can feel free to take covid infections less seriously. I would also be concerned about the additional pressures on those whose livelihoods depend on their being able to go out to work – will they be further discouraged from testing themselves or their children when asymptomatic, or from isolating should they develop symptoms? What pressures will be put on workers by their employers to continue working even in the event of a positive test? As with previous phases of the pandemic, some of the best messaging on behaving responsibly can come from those making these key decisions – if those in positions of power model responsible behaviours by continuing to test and to isolate to protect those around them, then the wider public are more likely to follow suit. Time will tell.” 


Dr James Gill, Honorary Clinical Lecturer, Warwick Medical School, said:

“As a GP, a disturbingly frequent issue raised by patients is the difficulties they can face at work when it comes to taking sick leave. Frequently people feel as though they are forced either to carry on, or return to work before they have recovered properly. The covid-19 pandemic highlighted the risks associated with years of discouraging patients from taking sick leave, and forced the government to put a focus on public health and protecting patients/workers.  This was perhaps seem most clearly in the codifying into law a requirement to isolate following a covid19 infection.

“Frankly I see no justifiable reason for the scrapping of this law, certainly not from the perspective of patients, nor from a business case either as the omicron variant is highly contagious, and thus more likely to spread through a staff group if people feel compelled to come to work with a “mild Covid19 infection”

“One clear fact about recovery from Covid19 as with any significant viral infection is that if a patient pushes too hard in the aftermath of the infection, this will slow their recovery. By removing the legal imperative to isolate following a covid19 infection, I have significant concerns:

i) Patients will become complacent in the face of infection, especially milder cases, resulting in further spread – keeping in mind that currently 1.3 million patients are estimated to be effected by long covid, and our understanding of the clear causes of this is currently still lacking.

ii) That complacency may result in further morbidity to patients, encouraging people to push themselves to return to full activities sooner, potentially risking prolonging their recovery.

iii) Business will feel able to push workers to return sooner as they are no longer protected by law

iv) We lose one of the few social benefits of the pandemic: That the concept of being in work whilst unwell, particularly if symptomatic, is something to be discouraged and frowned upon.

v) Whilst it does feel the end of the pandemic may be in sight, the pandemic is not over yet. There is still the risk of further mutations, which keeping current isolation protocols go a small way towards reducing

“In the 1940’s there were by-laws that banned spitting in attempts to curb the spread of TB, even up until 1990 spitting carried a £5 fine in many areas. Public health laws do evolve with time and fall into disuse. But I’m not sure that dropping laws designed to protect people and slow the spread of a pandemic is wise whilst a pandemic is still in progress – even if it means that bosses have to accept the challenge of not expecting ill or infectious staff coming into work.”


Professor Lawrence Young, Virologist & Professor of Molecular Oncology, University of Warwick, said:

“Removing the requirement for isolation in the face of high infection levels will inevitably result in increased spread of the virus. The real level of current infection is uncertain given increasing use of lateral flow tests and inadequate reporting. This will be further compromised as people will not see the value of testing when they have symptoms or come into contact with infected individuals. We need to remain vigilant for the arrival of new variants and not let our guard down- testing, tracing and virus genome surveillance are vital. It is important that we stress the need to continue to protect the clinically vulnerable. Waning vaccine-induced immunity will mean that we are likely to see people being reinfected. The pandemic isn’t over and, if we’ve learnt anything over the last 2 years, it’s that the impact and future of covid-19 remains unpredictable.”


Dr Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, said:

“I’ve heard people mistakenly say that SARS-CoV2 is seasonal, but evidence does seem to suggest that the UK government pandemic response may well be…

“For the past two years, we have mis-used the opportunity of the spring and summer, where behaviour limits transmission, not to make good on the hard-earned control from harsh lockdowns, but to hurriedly attempt to pretend that COVID has disappeared. We ate out, we enjoyed “freedom day”, and for many this has indeed happened without harsh consequences or impacts upon new-found freedoms. However, the promises around there not being a need for further restrictions in the future have proven hollow, and the reticence and delay with which they were implemented led to them being all the more damaging.

“Yes, we have vaccines, yes, the booster programme staved off the worst of the Omicron wave, yes we have reached a point where the entire nation is exhausted as a result of the above (in)actions. However, someone once said that “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Thus, whilst the reluctance to control the spread of SARS-CoV2 has been evident since the beginning of the pandemic, highlighted by recent revelations, I would insist that if we are being told it’s time to move on, then we must not forget that this is not something that a considerable minority of the UK population will be able to do to anywhere near the same degree. We must, as a nation, remember this and as for other health conditions, make all necessary and reasonable provisions to ensure that memories do not fade and that altruism endures. In my view, the way in which this is being implemented is a profound mistake. Again.

“Literally blinding ourselves by removing testing and isolation robs us of the most fundamental means of controlling the spread of this virus. Thankfully, for many the vaccines have greatly reduced the risk of severe disease, but as the need for boosters in response to Omicron shows us, both sides of the coin must be balanced in order to maintain this level of relative safety. We continually hear favourable comparisons to last January for the omicron wave as evidence that the vaccines can act alone to stave off the consequences of COVID. However, I question this as surely such effective vaccines ought not to allow peak hospitalisations in early 2022 at ~50% of the peak last January, or ~15% of deaths (DHSC dashboard). Surely this must therefore be an issue with policy?

“The same person quoted above also said “Times of crisis make clearer who the most vulnerable members of society are. They are always there, but too often people tend to ignore them until something makes them more visible. This is such a time.” It is certainly the case that the majority of people won’t be directly affected by these changes, but we must provide for those that are, and that will be susceptible to either severe disease or long COVID. There have been somewhere over 22K deaths with COVID on the certificate since freedom day, including 53 aged 19 and under (ONS). The morbidity and other consequences are not easily quantified, but surely unacceptable to many. If we are to rely upon our fantastic vaccines alone, then we must first ensure that they are as widely available as possible for all ages, and we must address the >20% of the country that has not yet received them. Let us all move on together at a pace that allows all to follow.”


Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine, UEA, said:

“Today’s comments from the Prime Minister were quite a surprise, at least to me. At some point it is going to be the case that all remaining restrictions are dropped including the need to self-isolate, though I certainly didn’t expect that to happen this month.

“There are grounds for optimism. After a temporary stalling in the rate of decline in reported cases case numbers have once again started to fall. This recent decline has been most dramatic in children where in England reported case number in children aged 5 to 9 cases have almost halved in a week. Hospital admissions and ITU bed occupancy continue to fall and deaths are also now falling. However, there remains concern about the omicron variant known as BA.2 which does seem to be still increasing in the most recent data, albeit a little slower than previously.

“The concern for me remains our more vulnerable people, especially those who for medical reasons may not have responded as well to vaccine as we would have wished. There needs to be robust procedures in place to ensure infections in this group are diagnosed early and antivirals are provided within hours of any positive result.”


Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology, University of Reading, said:

“The Prime Minister has been careful to qualify his forward guidance about the early lifting of Covid restrictions, saying they would only be lifted if relevant figures were still moving in the right direction.  Given our past experience of new variants emerging, this is wise.  If the requirement on infected individuals to isolate at home is lifted as indicated, it will be an experiment which will either be shown to be very brave or very stupid, but nobody knows for sure what the result will be.  Omicron may be on the wane in Europe but other parts of the world are still in the full flush of a surge in infections. In such circumstances, as we have seen before, the virus is in the best possible position to mutate again, and there is absolutely no certainty that any new variant would be less dangerous.

“The narrative that Covid-19’s impact on society and our healthcare system has evaporated has gained traction and has gone almost completely without question or challenge.  Yet, our understanding of the longer-term impacts on death and disease is still incomplete.  On top of 150,000 deaths, there are hundreds of thousands of people who have experienced long-term symptoms, and 18 million people who have been confirmed as having been infected. If emerging data from the US about the impact on heart disease is correct, we could be facing a new long-term increase in heart disease, already this country’s biggest killer disease.”



All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:



Declared interests

Dr Stephen Griffin: “Member of Independent SAGE.”

None others received.





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