U.K. Minister Says Britain Is Moving Beyond the Pandemic
(Bloomberg) -- Britain’s education secretary said the country is “on a path towards transitioning from pandemic to endemic” as the government drafts plans to live with Covid-19.
Becoming the first cabinet minister to back moves to cut the self-isolation period for people who contract the virus to five days from seven, Nadhim Zahawi on Sunday told the BBC that regular testing alongside vaccines, boosters and antiviral treatments would form the key parts of the country’s efforts to return to normality.
He also told Sky News that he hoped the U.K. would be “one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic, and then deal with this -- however long it remains with us, whether five, six, seven, 10 years.”
He suggested that if approved by the government’s scientific advisers, reducing isolation times would ease staff shortages, especially in schools, some of which are grappling with as much as 40% of staff absent, though the overall absentee rate is about 8.5%, up only slightly from recent levels. This was bound to increase, he said, telling the BBC that the next two weeks would be “bumpy.”
The former vaccines minister said the government is doing everything it can to ensure schools can stay open and that important exams, including GCSEs and A-levels, go ahead. That includes speeding up its school vaccination program and increasing the number of lateral flow tests.
The i newspaper reported that 60% of the cabinet is in favor of shortening the isolation period, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, on account of the economic benefits.
U.K. case numbers fell for the fifth straight day, with data also showing infections have started falling in some areas outside outside the capital, indicating omicron may be reaching its peak across Britain.
Zahawi denied that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was set to announce plans to restrict provision of free lateral flow tests to high-risk settings such as hospitals and schools due to concerns over cost, as reported by The Sunday Times. The newspaper’s analysis suggests 6 billion pounds ($8.2 billion) have already been spent on mass testing using the devices.
“This is absolutely not where we are at,” Zahawi insisted on Sky.
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