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WHO alarmed over Boris Johnson’s ‘premature’ plans to scrap Covid isolation rules from March

Boris Johnson’s plans to scrap Covid self-isolation rules in England from March have been branded “premature” by a World Health Organization (WHO) official.

She also indicated that England was scrapping mandatory face mask rules and the work from home mandate too soon.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the Covid-19 technical lead at WHO, said she was alarmed by the Prime Minister’s plans to end mandatory self-isolation for positive Covid cases.

“I think it is premature,” she told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme. “There needs to be a clear reason as to why that is being dropped.

“If you don’t isolate cases then the virus will spread between people.”

The infectious disease epidemiologist added: “We continue to recommend isolation… completely abandoning that will allow the virus to spread.”

When asked if she was alarmed by Mr Johnson’s plans, Dr Kerkhove responded: “It does, yes.”

It comes after the Prime Minister indicated he planned to scrap the requirement for self-isolation if you test positive for Covid.

The legal requirement to isolate is set to expire on 24 March, but Mr Johnson told MPs he hoped to bring the date forward if the data allows.

While outlining the Government’s new plans to learn to “live with Covid”, he said: “As Covid becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance, urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others.

“The self-isolation regulations expire on March 24, at which point I very much expect not to renew them. Indeed, were the data to allow, I’d like to seek a vote in this House to bring that date forward.”

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The WHO official also indicated she felt the PM’s decision to scrap Plan B measures in England from Thursday was too premature.

“I think it’s quite soon, this virus is spreading really intensely,” she said.

“I think what is the challenge as we move into this next phase of this pandemic is how do we get the balance right with the measures that are needed to reduce the spread.”

Dr Kerkhove suggested people should continue to wear masks in public places and work from home where possible to reduce the spread of Covid among populations.

“Wearing a mask is not a big ask,” she said.

The WHO official was insistent that the pandemic is far from over and more variants will emerge over the coming months and years.

She said: “We are very much in the middle of it, I know everybody is ready to be done with it – I am as well – but this virus is still evolving, it’s still changing and we need to change with it.

“It will not end with this latest wave of Omicron and it will not be the last variant that you will hear us speaking about unfortunately.”

When asked if she thought the pandemic would end in years or months, the expert said: “I’m not talking months.”

She added: “We will be in this pandemic certainly throughout 2022, there is no question in my mind.

“This virus is moving towards an endemic state at a global level but you can’t reach an endemic state in one country while the pandemic is thriving elsewhere.”

Dr Kerkhove said while she is certain the pandemic will continue to thrive this year, she was unsure what the situation would be in 2023.

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