Boris Johnson is scrapping COVID-19 restrictions in England, sparking discussions between education decision-makers on the safety of students and staff.
On Feb. 21, 2022, the British prime minister confirmed England’s “living with COVID-19” plan which would see the removal of COVID-19 restrictions in England in the hopes of living with the virus.
From Feb. 24, 2022, people who have tested positive for COVID-19 will no longer be legally required to self-isolate but will be only advised to stay at home for at least five full days.
“Until April 1, 2022, we will still advise people who test positive to stay at home. But after that, we will encourage people with COVID-19 symptoms to exercise personal responsibility, just as we encourage people who may have flu to be considerate to others,” said Johnson in parliament on Monday.
On April 1, 2022, free mass testing for the general public will end.
COVID-19 restrictions in England: Criticism from the education sector
The COVID-19 restrictions in England update announced by the government have been criticised by several education bodies who argue that they are endangering the lives of university students and staff ahead of their plans to end free testing and remote learning.
In response to the move to stop providing free tests, Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, told Research Professional News: “This approach is reckless and may lead to COVID-19 outbreaks being undetected until it is far too late to limit infections.”
“It is also completely irresponsible for the government to make this change at such short notice. Ministers must explain how employers are supposed to ensure campuses remain safe when testing is a key health and safety control measure.”
Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis also expressed concerns regarding the lifted restrictions. Jarvis felt that it was “hard to understand” why the government aims to end the legal agreement for universities to hand out free test kits to students and staff, and sought “urgent clarification”.
“We are asking the government for urgent clarification that universities can continue to distribute test kits from the supplies they have on campus—this makes sense when universities have kits which would otherwise go to waste and while there is still demand from students and staff this term,” Jarvis was quoted saying.