Face masks in the spotlight. | KEVIN COOMBS

1

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the end of COVID-19 measures introduced to curb the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in England as he looks to live with the virus after a peak in cases.

Britain was the first country to limit international travel over the Omicron variant, raising alarm bells about its mutations, and in December introduced work-at-home advice, more mask-wearing and vaccine passes to slow its spread.

But while cases soared to record highs, hospitalisations and deaths have not risen by the same extent, in part due to Britain's booster rollout and the variant's lesser severity.
Johnson's approach to avoid lockdowns and live with the virus contrasts with a zero tolerance approach to COVID-19 in China and Hong Kong, and tougher restrictions in many other European countries.

"Many nations across Europe have endured further winter lockdowns... but this government took a different path," Johnson told lawmakers, saying the government had got the toughest decisions right and that numbers going into intensive care were falling.

"Our scientists believe it is likely that the Omicron wave has now peaked nationally... because of the extraordinary booster campaign, together with the way the public have responded to the Plan B measures, we can return to Plan A."

Johnson said that none of the so-called Plan B measures would remain, as face masks would not be legally enforced anywhere, COVID passes would not be mandatory and advice to work from home would end.

Johnson has faced criticism for his handling of the pandemic overall, and Britain has reported 152,513 deaths, the seventh highest total globally. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have followed their own anti-coronavirus measures, generally with tougher restrictions, but have also begun to ease them.