British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said laws requiring people in England with COVID-19 to self-isolate could be lifted by the end of the month, bringing an end to all domestic coronavirus restrictions.
"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," Mr Johnson told Parliament.
People who test positive to coronavirus currently have to isolate for five full days. That rule is to expire on March 24 and Downing Street said it would be replaced with a guidance instead, such as urging people not to go to work if they have COVID-19.
This would make the UK among the first in the world to scrap isolation requirements for positive cases.
The news comes as the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) insisted Wednesday that "COVID isn't finished with us" and appealed for more support to fight the pandemic.
WHO's latest weekly epidemiological report showed that case counts fell 17 per cent worldwide over the last week, including a 50 per cent decline in the United States, while deaths globally declined seven per cent.
"Depending on where you live, it might feel like the COVID-19 pandemic is almost over, or, it might feel like it is at its worst," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. "But wherever you live, COVID isn't finished with us."
However, Mr Johnson plans to present his plan for living with the virus when Parliament returns from a short break on February 21.
Mr Johnson's Conservative government dropped most remaining COVID-19 restrictions last month. Face masks are no longer mandatory anywhere in England, except on London's public transport network. Virus passports for gaining entry to nightclubs and large-scale events were scrapped, as was the official advice to work from home.
Officials have said the government plans to switch from legal restrictions to advisory measures and treat the coronavirus more like the flu as it becomes endemic in the country.
The UK has seen a drop in both new infections and COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals since early January, when the highly transmissible Omicron variant drove daily caseloads to more than 200,000 a day.
Current infections average at around 64,000 daily — the lowest recorded since mid-December — with 314 deaths reported on Tuesday.
Officials have credited the government's booster jab program with preventing the surge of Omicron cases from causing serious stress to UK hospitals. In Britain, 65.4 per cent of those 12 and over have had a booster vaccine, and 84.5 per cent have been fully vaccinated.
Beginning Friday, the rules for people travelling to the UK will also be relaxed. Fully vaccinated travellers will no longer need to take any coronavirus tests before or after arrival, and those who are not fully jabbed won't have to isolate, although they need to take tests.
Some scientists greeted Wednesday's news with caution. Simon Clarke, a professor in microbiology at the University of Reading, said ending the self-isolation rule will be "an experiment which will either be shown to be very brave or very stupid."
"Omicron may be on the wane in Europe but other parts of the world are still in the full flush of a surge in infections. In such circumstances, as we have seen before, the virus is in the best possible position to mutate again, and there is absolutely no certainty that any new variant would be less dangerous," he said.
Britain joins other European countries also easing COVID-19 restrictions as infection rates drop. The Czech Republic said Wednesday people no longer have to show a vaccination certificate to enter bars, restaurants and cafes, while Sweden is halting widespread testing, citing unjustifiable costs and relevance.
Britain still has the second-highest virus death toll in Europe after Russia, with over 159,000 dead in total.