President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser said on Wednesday that the US is heading out of the “full-blown” pandemic phase of the coronavirus, as England unexpectedly announced it will soon scrap mandatory quarantine for those who test positive later next month.
Speaking with the Financial Times, Anthony Fauci expressed hope that most pandemic-related measures and restrictions will be lifted in the coming months, including mandatory face masks. He also said that new medical treatments, vaccines and prior infection will make the pathogen “more manageable.”
“As we get out of the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19, which we are certainly heading out of, these decisions will increasingly be made on a local level rather than centrally decided or mandated,” he said.
“There will also be more people making their own decisions on how they want to deal with the virus.”
Fauci said that he hopes all COVID-19 restrictions will be halted by the end of 2022, including mandatory mask-wearing.
His comments came as data showed that the US appears to be emerging from its latest coronavirus wave driven by the Omicron variant, though cases remain far higher than during any previous surge and COVID-19 hospitalizations are at a peak.
As more and more countries around the world move to further lift pandemic restrictions, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that England will scrap the legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for COVID-19 later this month if infection levels remain stable.
The proposed move would be one of the most dramatic easings of coronavirus rules taken by any country so far in the pandemic, as Johnson doubles down on a strategy of trying to “live with COVID.”
However, it is likely to prove controversial, with health experts warning much of the world still needs to be vaccinated, and UK opposition politicians asking whether the government’s scientific advisers support the planned change.
Johnson, dogged by revelations of apparent breaches of the COVID-19 rules at Downing Street that have led to calls for him to quit, had earlier said he aimed to end the self-isolation rules on March 24.
But addressing lawmakers before parliament goes into recess on Thursday until February 21, he said he would bring the change forward by a month, to cheers from hordes of his fellow Conservative MPs who have grown increasingly weary with the restrictions.
“It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with COVID,” Johnson told parliament.
“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions — including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive — a full month early.”
Johnson’s spokesman later told reporters it was justified by falling case numbers and hospitalization rates but noted the law to self-isolate could be reimposed promptly in response to a dangerous new variant.
The UK government only has responsibility for health policy in England, with devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland setting their own rules.
England lifted almost all coronavirus restrictions in late January that had been reimposed in early December to tackle the Omicron variant, with masks no longer required in enclosed places and vaccine passports shelved.
Ahead of Johnson’s unexpected announcement, Bruce Aylward, senior advisor to the World Health Organisation director-general, warned that COVID-19 numbers globally are still “absolutely staggering.”
“What we’re learning to live with is not just this virus, but what should be an unacceptable burden of disease, an unacceptable number of deaths every single day,” he told BBC radio.
Aylward urged Western countries such as Britain to step up investment in the global vaccination efforts.