In response to the Prime Minister setting out the plans for lifting COVID-19 restrictions, Professor Dame Anne Johnson PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences said:
“Only time will tell if this is the right moment to drop all restrictions and we will need more details to fully understand the Government’s plan.
“The Office for National Statistics' Covid Infection Survey and the surveillance coordinated by the UK Health Security Agency have been powerful tools in monitoring the spread and variants of COVID-19, so it is to be welcomed that these essential systems are being prioritised. However, we need to understand the extent to which they will be scaled down, and the scientific basis for ensuring that they will be fit for purpose to detect trends and new variants.
“Despite the changes being made, we all still have a collective responsibility to keep protecting the people who are at greatest risk from COVID-19. Although it will no longer be a legal requirement to self-isolate [from Thursday 24 February], people should continue to take precautions and modify their behaviour to reduce spreading the virus, especially to those who are vulnerable. This includes getting COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters and people staying at home when they are ill where possible. These are vital steps to protect our most vulnerable members of society. The pandemic has already disproportionately impacted more disadvantaged communities and the removal of financial support for self-isolation means that many will not be able to afford to self-isolate.
“While maintaining the current level of testing is not sustainable in the long-term, we need a better understanding of how symptomatic testing will be prioritised in future based on clinical need so that those who need it can get a diagnosis, access care and receive appropriate treatment.
“When infection rates are high, testing must also continue to be available to protect those who are at high risk of severe disease (and the people around them) and in high-risk environments such as in healthcare settings and care homes, and clarity is needed on how this will continue. Testing is also vital for potentially life-saving research, such as the UK’s PANORAMIC trial looking into new antivirals.
“As ever in any crucial stage of the pandemic there are no perfect solutions, but clear communication is key and we look forward to the further clarification as promised in the plan.”