Britain’s Johnson reduces Covid testing to save resources, boost economy

By Judith Mora

London, Jan 5 (EFE).- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday announced changes in the directives for performing Covid-19 tests both within the United Kingdom as well as for international arrivals with an eye toward optimizing the use of resources and giving a push to the economy.

Johnson told the House of Commons that, starting on Friday at 0400 GMT, vaccinated people and accompanied minors below age 18 traveling from abroad to the England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will not have to undergo an antigen test before traveling or to isolate upon their arrival until they receive a negative PCR test.

The new measures, which had been requested by tourism companies and airlines, mean that travelers will not have to have a PCR test done prior to the second day of their stay in the country, but rather an antigen test will be sufficient, and they will not have to isolate themselves if they do not test positive, although if they do test positive this can be confirmed with a PCR test with an eye toward detecting new variants of the coronavirus.

Simultaneously, the premier said that starting on Jan. 11 citizens without Covid symptoms who test positive with an antigen test will not have to confirm the result with a PCR test although they will have to inform the authorities and also to quarantine themselves. Those who have symptoms will also have to obtain confirmation of Covid and to quarantine.

The government’s aim, Johnson said, is to make more flexible the isolation period for asymptomatic people, who earlier had to wait while the test result was confirmed by a PCR test and now they will have to isolate starting with the first positive test, a move that will allow people to get back to work or to school more quickly.

At the same time, this will save on the number of tests that are performed, given the scarcity of testing kits in recent days, so that the people who most need them and workers in essential sectors, like in education and healthcare, can get them when needed.

Simplifying the requirements for travelers has been well-received by the airline sector, although easyJet CEO Johan Lundgren called for the elimination of all “unnecessary” tests that are still required for vaccinated people.

Johnson confirmed to Parliament that his government does not plan to introduce more restrictions to contain the pandemic, since with what he called the good progress made on administering booster shots along with the fact that the Omicron variant appears to cause less serious disease, it is preferable to keep society and the economy “open.”

The new health requirements will remain in place in England until Jan. 26, with a review to be conducted in the days prior to that date, and these include wearing a facemask in enclosed indoor spaces like supermarkets, although not in hotels, and in high schools, presenting negative test results or a vaccination certificate at large events and the recommendation to work from home, if possible.

The No. 2 figure in the opposition Labour Party, Angela Rayner, demanded of Johnson that he offer “more help” to hospitals, about 20 of which have declared themselves to be in an emergency situation due to lack of personnel.

Rayner replaced Labour leader Keir Starmer at the weekly parliamentary session after the latter had to self-isolate for the sixth time due to coming in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid. This time, Starmer himself has tested positive, just as in October, but on the other occasions he has isolated as precaution.

In part to satisfy his own party, Johnson has pushed for trying to get through the current wave of the Omicron variant without further restrictions, despite acknowledging that hospitals are “under considerable pressure” due to the skyrocketing number of cases of the highly transmissible strain.

All eyes are now on the evolution of pandemic figures in the coming days, and indications are that the number of positive cases from the Omicron variant may soon reach a peak and then begin to decline.

According to figures released on Wednesday, which reflect a rise in cases as a result of the holiday season, in the last 24 hours 194,747 new coronavirus cases have been detected, a 40.1 percent increase over the past week, compared with the previous seven-day period.

In the past 24 hours, 334 people have died of Covid in the UK and 2,258 have been hospitalized, an increase of 58.8 percent, with 911 people currently in intensive care units due to the virus.

EFE jm/er/ie/bp

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