UK’s Johnson Under Pressure to Relax COVID-19 Restrictions

By Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
Alexander Zhang
January 10, 2022 Updated: January 10, 2022

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under pressure from his backbench Conservative MPs to commit to ending restrictions and start managing COVID-19 as an endemic disease like flu.

Former chief whip Mark Harper, an influential lockdown-sceptic, warned Johnson that he could suffer a significant rebellion later this month if he tries to extend the “Plan B” measures, which were introduced late last year to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19.

Under Plan B, people in England have been asked to work from home if they can, vaccine passports have been introduced for large-scale events and nightclubs, and a mask mandate has been enforced for most indoor settings, including cinemas and theatres.

As many as 100 Conservative MPs rebelled against the government last month by voting against the measures, which were eventually approved with support from the opposition Labour Party.

Harper, the chair of the COVID Recovery Group of Conservative MPs, warned the rebellion could be even larger if the prime minister tries to extend Plan B beyond Jan. 26.

“I think there will be even more people against it,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “I think the intellectual argument now is even weaker.”

Asked when Johnson should formally declare an end to the restrictions, the MP said, “If that’s not now, when is it?”

Calls for reduced state invention are also coming from some individuals within the mainstream scientific community.

Clive Dix, former chairman of Britain’s vaccine taskforce, told The Observer that mass vaccination against COVID-19 should come to an end and the UK should focus on managing it as an endemic disease like flu.

“It’s pointless trying to stop infection with it, which is sort of what mass vaccination is all about, because it’s not doing it. We’re seeing a lot of infection,” Dix told Channel 4 News on Jan. 9.

Dix also said mass testing will no longer be needed in a couple of months’ time, as it “doesn’t help anybody.”

Cabinet minister Michael Gove also agreed that the country was moving to a stage where it can “live with COVID.”

Gove was one of the voices around the Cabinet table arguing for tougher measures when Omicron emerged. But he told the BBC on Jan. 10 that the restrictions should be eased “the sooner the better,” though it would have to be “guided by science.”

Also on Jan. 10, the prime minister confirmed that ministers are considering reducing the self-isolation period for fully vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to a vaccination clinic in Uxbridge, Johnson said the government is looking at scientific evidence and considering whether to cut the isolation period from seven to five days.

PA Media contributed to this report.