England will end its mandatory face masking and COVID-19 vaccine passport requirements on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced to applause from Parliament.
Speaking in the House of Commons Wednesday, Johnson said scientists believe the wave of coronavirus cases caused by the Omicron variant had peaked nationally and as such the country would revert to its “Plan A” response to the virus, according to the BBC.
The end of “Plan B” lifts many coronavirus restrictions Johnson imposed on England. The prime minister said that beginning Thursday, COVID passports for entering nightclubs and large events would no longer be required, though private venues can continue to use them if they wish. People will no longer be advised to work from home, and employers may coordinate a return to offices.
Face masks will no longer be mandated in England, though the government is encouraging people to wear coverings in enclosed or crowded spaces or when meeting strangers, Johnson said. And starting Thursday, schoolchildren will no longer have to wear face masks in classrooms.
The prime minister cited data from a coronavirus infection study by the Office for National Statistics in his announcement that shows infections are falling in England and hospitalizations have stabilized.
“We will trust the judgement of the English people,” Johnson said. “We are the first to emerge from the Omicron wave.
There were loud cheers in Parliament after Johnson finished making these announcements.
“This is a moment we can all be proud of,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said at a press conference. “It is a reminder of what this country can accomplish when we all work together.”
U.K. health officials warned that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is not eradicated and that future variants will lead to surges of viral infections. But the nation will respond to COVID as an endemic virus, rather than a pandemic.
“We must learn to live with COVID in the same way we live with the flu,” Javid said.
The change in coronavirus policy comes as many British lawmakers are calling for Johnson’s resignation, following reports of parties and other supposedly prohibited gatherings at the prime minister’s residence during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Labour leaders opposed to Johnson have accused him of hypocritically flouting coronavirus restrictions with “industrial scale partying.” Members of Johnson’s own party are also fed up with him, with prominent Conservative lawmaker and former Brexit secretary David Davis telling Johnson Wednesday, “In the name of God, go.”
Johnson admitted to Parliament last week that he had attended a gathering with alcoholic drinks at the prime minister’s office at Downing Street in May 2020 but said he believed it was a “work event.”
But public backlash to Johnson’s excuse has led a number of Conservative Party lawmakers to call for his resignation, fearing that the prime minister has lost the trust of voters and will be unable to lead the party in future elections.