Sector leaders have responded to the government’s announcement that all Covid restrictions will end in England on Thursday and free mass testing will stop from 1 April.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday (February 21) told MPs the legal duty to isolate for those who tested positive would be dropped as he unveiled his “living with Covid” plan.

Vaccines will remain the first line of defence against Covid-19 as the Prime Minister set out the Government’s plans to live with and manage the virus.

The Plan, published sets out how vaccines and other pharmaceutical interventions will continue to form our first line of defence.

The plan covers four main pillars:

  • Removing domestic restrictions while encouraging safer behaviours through public health advice, in common with longstanding ways of managing other infectious illnesses
  • Protecting the vulnerable through pharmaceutical interventions and testing, in line with other viruses
  • Maintaining resilience against future variants, including through ongoing surveillance, contingency planning and the ability to reintroduce key capabilities such as mass vaccination and testing in an emergency
  • Securing innovations and opportunities from the COVID-19 response, including investment in life sciences

The public are encouraged to continue to follow public health advice, as with all infectious diseases such as the flu, to minimise the chance of catching Covid and help protect family and friends. This includes by letting fresh air in when meeting indoors, wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet, and washing your hands.

The Prime Minister has today confirmed domestic legal restrictions will end on 24 February as we begin to treat Covid as other infectious diseases such as flu. This means:

  • The remaining domestic restrictions in England will be removed. The legal requirement to self-isolate ends. Until 1 April, we still advise people who test positive to stay at home. Adults and children who test positive are advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for at least five full days and then continue to follow the guidance until they have received two negative test results on consecutive days.
  • From April, the Government will update guidance setting out the ongoing steps that people with COVID-19 should take to be careful and considerate of others, similar to advice on other infectious diseases. This will align with testing changes.
  • Self-isolation support payments, national funding for practical support and the medicine delivery service will no longer be available.
  • Routine contact tracing ends, including venue check-ins on the NHS COVID-19 app.
  • Fully vaccinated adults and those aged under 18 who are close contacts are no longer advised to test daily for seven days and the legal requirement for close contacts who are not fully vaccinated to self-isolate will be removed.

As set out in the Autumn and Winter Plan, universal free provision of tests will end as the response to the virus changes. From the start of April, the government will end free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public. Limited symptomatic testing will be available for a small number of at-risk groups and we will set out further details on which groups will be eligible shortly.

Further changes being made include: On 24 February, removing additional local authority powers to tackle local COVID-19 outbreaks (No.3 regulations). Local Authorities will manage local outbreaks in high-risk settings as they do with other infectious diseases.  On 24 March, the Government will also remove the COVID-19 provisions within the Statutory Sick Pay and Employment and Support Allowance regulations.

From 1 April, the Government will:

  • Remove the current guidance on voluntary COVID-status certification in domestic settings and no longer recommend that certain venues use the NHS COVID Pass.
  • No longer provide free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public in England.
  • Remove the health and safety requirement for every employer to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments.

UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls said: “It is heartening to hear that we are now moving to trading based on the safety measures that businesses have put in place and we hope that this will ignite consumer confidence in our sector and beyond. The hospitality industry has proved that its venues are safe for staff and consumers and that, when allowed to trade without restrictions, it can be a major driver of economic growth and recovery. We are pleased to see that much of our 5-point plan for living with Covid has been taken forward by Government.

“Hospitality was hit first, longest and hardest by this pandemic, however, and with costs rising across the board and a VAT rise due this April – just as the cost of living crisis is set to bite – businesses in the sector still need support. At the very least, we need the Government commit to keeping VAT at 12.5% beyond April in order for the industry to be able to play its full role in the UK’s social and economic recovery.”

Steven Alton, CEO of the BII commented: “Pubs are an integral part of our economy, providing vital local jobs and careers for people in every community across the UK.

“More than that, they provide safe social spaces for people to reconnect and come together. They remain critical to the future of communities and high streets, as they begin to rebuild after the pandemic.

“Their essential role in society has been formally recognised by the Chancellor in recent times, and we now look forward to his continued support to safeguard their futures. A continued low rate of VAT alongside a reduction in the ongoing unfair burden of Business Rates, will be critical.”

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association said: “Moving beyond COVID restrictions marks an important milestone in the road to recovery for pubs. A recent study from CGA which found that 70% of people now feel confident about visiting pubs, bars and restaurants so we are hopeful that we have seen the last of any restrictions.

“However, as we move to living with covid as an endemic virus it is important the pub and brewing sector receive the necessary support and guidance to ensure a strong and sustainable recovery. We urge the Government to support the sector’s recovery by continuing to reduce the punitive tax burden on our sector to ensure the sustainability of brewing and pubs, and help us regenerate our cities, towns and villages up and down the country.”