Ministers prepare to scrap restrictions as Johnson declares victory over Covid

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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The cabinet is meeting to approve plans to lift all remaining Covid restrictions in England. The government is expected to announce: ending the requirement to isolate if you have Covid, scrapping universal free PCR and lateral flow tests, winding up the contact tracing system and ending twice weekly testing for schoolchildren. Boris Johnson will make a statement in parliament at 3.30 pm before addressing the public in a press conference this evening. With typical boosterism, the Prime Minister is saying today will “mark a moment of pride”. Awkward for Johnson, however, is the fact that the Queen tested positive for Covid on Sunday.

Wes Streeting described the move to scrap all legal public health restrictions in England as “very premature”, and told BBC’s Sunday Morning viewers that his party would not support the decision unless there is more scientific evidence for it. In particular, the Shadow Health Secretary argued that ending universal access to free Covid testing is “like being 2-1 up with ten minutes left of play and subbing your best defender”. Shadow minister Stephen Doughty said this morning that scrapping free testing and the requirement to self-isolate is “wrong”.

The extent to which the government is ‘following the science’ is in question – more so than ever before in the pandemic. The declaration of victory comes at a convenient time for Johnson as Westminster awaits the outcome of the police investigation into the ‘partygate’ allegations. Sunday Morning show viewers were subjected to an excruciating interview with the Prime Minister this weekend as Johnson refused 17 times to comment on the matter: “There is literally not a bean I can tell you.” It is thought that if the Prime Minister were to receive fixed penalty notice for breaching the rules, letters of no confidence from backbench Tories could start to roll in.

Also convenient for Johnson is the Ukraine crisis. Europe minister James Cleverly said on Sunday that, in light of the threat of invasion, now is not the time for Tory MPs to create a “vacuum of leadership” by giving Johnson the boot. Keir Starmer has backed the government over NATO and is focusing on money associated with the Putin regime linked to the Tory Party. The Sunday Times broke the story over the weekend that those who donated £250,000 or more to the party have been given access to government as part of a secret “advisory board”. One of those named is Lubov Chernukhin, wife of a former Putin finance minister. Starmer has written a piece in The Observer, arguing that “the Conservative Party and its MPs and associations should hand back all the money they took”.

The Labour leader has also written for LabourList, arguing that “away from the chatter and intrigue of Westminster, in the places where things really matter, the Labour Party is on track”. He talks about the tour he embarked on last week, taking his ‘contract with the British people’ to voters directly, while accusing the Prime Minister of being “fixated on one job – his own”. One of the areas visited by the Labour leader last week was Birmingham Erdington, where a by-election will be held on March 3rd. Sienna is currently braving the bad weather to visit the seat today and interview candidate Paulette Hamilton. Stay tuned for more.

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