LONDON, England: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that since infections are leveling off in most parts of the country, face masks will no longer be mandatory in public localities from 27th January, and COVID-19 passports will no longer be required for entrance to major events.
The restrictions will be eased because government scientists suggested the surge of infections caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant "has now peaked nationally," Johnson told lawmakers.
However, while Johnson said hospital admissions and patients in intensive care units in most areas of England were stabilizing or falling, hospitals in the north of the country are still seeing high caseloads, and infection rates are still rising in schools.
"We will trust the judgment of the British people and no longer criminalize anyone who chooses not to wear one," Johnson said of wearing masks.
The restrictions were introduced in December to slow the rapid spread of the Omicron variant and buy time for the population to recieve their booster vaccine shots.
On January 19 Johnson said more than 90 percent of those people over the age of 60 in the UK have had their booster shots, and the government reported 108,069 new cases, about half the daily number recorded over the holidays.
Official figures also showed COVID-19 infections declined in most parts of the UK for the first time since early December.
Johnson also said that the current five-day self-isolation measure will end on 24th March or earlier if statistics continue to improve.
Johnson and Health Secretary Sajid Javid both suggested that the government is planning for a post-pandemic period, when it can treat COVID-19 as a flu.
"There will soon come a time when we can remove the legal requirement to self-isolate altogether, just as we do not place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu," Johnson said, urging the public to remain cautious and stressed that the pandemic is "not over."
The news was welcomed by the business community, especially the hospitality and tourism industries.
However, Matthew Fell, chief policy director of the Confederation of British Industry, said, "There is a vital need now for greater consistency in how we live with the virus in the longer term. Swinging back and forth between restrictions and normality has been damaging."
Johnson's spokesman said the government would publish such a plan "shortly."
Scotland and Wales, which set their own public health rules, also announced the easing of restrictions.