That country is moving towards a phase where it can “live with Covid”, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said, as the government faced pressure from Tory lawmakers to ease up.
Mr Gove acknowledged there would still be “tough weeks ahead” with the NHS facing real pressure, and it was not yet possible to say that the current Omicron-driven wave of Covid-19 cases was coming to an end.
The leveling up secretary, who was one of the voices around the cabinet table arguing for tougher measures when Omicron emerged, said the easing of restrictions should be guided by science, but “the sooner the better”. .
Mr Gove said lateral flow tests are “as long as we need to” and “they are an important tool to ensure that we can stop the spread of infection and also that people who need to be isolated are do so”.
He told Sky News: “We are going to a situation – we are not yet – but we are going to a situation where it is possible to say that we can live with Covid, and that the NHS and important But public services are ending under pressure.”
Starting Monday, daily lateral flow testing has begun to be offered to nearly 100,000 critical workers to help spot and isolate asymptomatic cases and limit the risk of outbreaks in key workplaces.
A further 141,472 cases were announced on Sunday, the fifth consecutive drop – however, this number should be treated with caution as reports often drop over the weekend.
Figures from NHS England showed 16,399 hospital beds were occupied by patients with COVID-19 on Sunday, of whom 704 required mechanical ventilation.
Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “It is the case that we are in the next two or three weeks – perhaps longer – facing real pressure on the NHS, and at this point our first responsibility is to support the NHS. Have to do it.”
But after the current “tough period”, Mr Gove said he expected “better times ahead”.
“There are other coronaviruses that are endemic and that we live with – viruses evolve in a way that makes them less harmful but more widespread.
“So, guided by science, we can look to a progressive lifting of restrictions and – I think for all of us – the sooner, the better.
“But we have to keep the NHS safe.”
Ministers are under pressure to ease restrictions and cut isolation times for cases to five days, in line with the United States, Mr Gove said, adding that the situation was always kept under review.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Chancellor Rishi Sunak was among ministers keen on the economic benefits of reducing the period from seven to five days, while Education Secretary Nadim Jahvi has suggested the move could help ease staffing problems. Is.
Current Plan B measures in England – including guidance on working from home where possible and the widespread use of face coverings – will be reviewed on 26 January.
Former Tory Chief Whip Mark Harper leader of the Covid Recovery Group of Conservatives warned Boris Johnson that he could face a bigger revolt than the 100 Conservatives who did the first in December if he sought to expand the measures. He was disregarded when presented.
Mr Harper said: “The Prime Minister would like to agree with us on the backbench, that we have to be realistic about living with COVID forever…
“It’s becoming a permanent situation.”
He continued: “If I was running a hospitality business, I would be too nervous to invest, grow my business, take any risk because I really have no idea what’s going to happen next. “
City Pub Group chairman Clive Watson told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that things were “really, really hard for the hospitality industry”, adding: “People who work in hospitals or work in retail Why do they go to work, but office workers are exempted from going to work?”
Professor Graham Medley, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) panel, said the shift towards living with Covid-19 would be a phased transition.
“This cannot be an emergency forever,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
“So at some point it will have to be an emergency stop, but it is likely to be a phased out rather than an active point where someone can declare the pandemic to be over.”
The World Health Organization’s special envoy on COVID-19, Dr David Nabarro, said the virus is going to create a very difficult situation for “at least” the next three months.
He told Sky News: “I’m afraid we’re headed through the marathon but there’s no real way to say we’re at the end – we can see the end in sight, but we’re not there.
“And there’s going to be a few bumps before we get there.”