The prime minister has signalled the end of work from home guidance, Covid passes and mandatory face masks in public places in England.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Johnson said people were no longer advised to work from home when the Plan B list of rules are ditched on Thursday, January 26, nor will Covid passes be mandatory any longer.
The legal requirement for people with coronavirus to self-isolate will also be allowed to lapse when regulations expire on March 24 – and that date could be brought forward.
When it comes to face masks, the government will no longer make people wear them anywhere from next Thursday, and they will be scrapped in secondary school classrooms in England even sooner, from this Thursday, with school communal areas to follow.
The announcement is seen as the latest move in what has been dubbed Operation Red Meat – a policy splurge by No10 in a bid to win back the support of mutinous Tory MPs and the public after their May 20 party was revealed.
But, leading scientists are unequivocally against the Prime Minister’s plans to lift restrictions.
Professor Francois Balloux, a professor and director at UCL Genetics Institute, said that while Omicron might be receding in the UK, it doesn’t mean that we won’t face future waves that could debilitate the NHS.
“Healthcare remains under severe stress and the transition into a long-term, lower number of daily cases needs to be managed carefully,” he said.
“An overly fast return to pre-pandemic behaviour could lead to viral flares, which could cause considerable problems for the NHS, and may risk further delaying the return to ‘post-pandemic normal’.
Prof Balloux said that we should be aiming to avoid contact rates shooting up immediately, but rather increasing slowly towards their pre-pandemic level over the spring.
This could be achieveable through “entirely non-coercive measures, as the population will likely remain largely careful over the coming months”, he said, adding that precautions such as remote working should still be encouraged.
“Work from home, for those whose job permit it, is often considered to be an acceptable restriction, and it is highly effective at reducing viral transmission.”
Even if we leave pandemic status, an endemic is not without its dangers either, points out Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor from the University of Leeds.
“It is striking that the government are so adept at moving to reduce restrictions early when they have repeatedly failed to act in a timely fashion to prevent now five consecutive waves of SARS-CoV2 resulting in profound human and economic cost,” Dr Griffin said.
“There is a mistaken notion that the virus is somehow evolving to become less virulent, more transmissible, and this is being inaccurately lauded as endemicity by various parties.
“Endemic, sadly, does not mean benign, as sufferers of Malaria, TB, HIV, and Lassa fever might tell you. Variola (smallpox) and polio were endemic prior to eradication efforts.”
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor from Warwick Medical School, said: “Removing Plan B measures in the face of extremely high levels of infection is a risk. With over 94,000 cases reported yesterday, talk of an end to the pandemic is premature. Infections are raging across Europe and other parts of the world, reinforcing the need to take a cautious approach to easing restrictions.
Prof Young added: “Perhaps it would have been wiser to wait for another couple of weeks before removing the advice to work from home and the face coverings mandate.
“There’s no guarantee that infection levels will continue to fall and the NHS remains under extreme pressure. It’s important that we learn from previous experience.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.