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COVID-19: Omicron 'in retreat' and England in 'next chapter' of COVID fight, says Sajid Javid as Plan B scrapped

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The Omicron variant of coronavirus is "in retreat" and England is in the "next chapter" of its fight against the virus, the health secretary has said.

Speaking at a Downing Street news conference, Sajid Javid said the lifting of Plan B COVID-19 measures is a moment "we can all be proud of".

Live COVID updates from the UK and around the world

'Not the end of the road'

The work from home guidance has been rescinded with immediate effect, while COVID passes and mandatory mask-wearing in shops and on public transport will end next Thursday.

Face masks will also no longer be required in classrooms from Thursday and communal areas from 27 January.

Restrictions on visits to care homes will be eased further, with more details due to be set out in the coming days.

Analysis: The government's Omicron strategy was a gamble that paid off - will lifting Plan B rules be the same?

The health secretary said Omicron caused case numbers to rise to record levels, with over a third of the UK's total number of confirmed COVID cases being recorded in the last eight weeks.

Mr Javid said government action had "worked", but he cautioned this is "not the end of the road and we shouldn't see this as the finish line because we cannot eradicate this virus and its future variants".

The health secretary added: "Instead we must learn to live with COVID in the same way we have to live with flu.

"And we will be setting out our long-term plan for living with COVID-19 this spring."

Read more: UK in 'very strong position' on COVID - but world in 'pretty dire situation', expert warns

Health secretary pressed on ending isolation requirement

Mr Javid denied Boris Johnson had "got lucky" after the prime minister resisted calls to impose further measures on top of the Plan B measures.

"The central decision that he made which was to absolutely focus on boosters has been vindicated," he said.

"That is the main reason that we are where we are today because the prime minister made those decisions."

Mr Johnson confirmed the scrapping of Plan B measures in a Commons statement earlier on Wednesday.

The prime minister told MPs that cases were falling and the Omicron wave had likely peaked nationally, meaning restrictions could now be eased.

Mr Johnson also said it was his intention to end isolation rules for people with COVID in the coming weeks.

The legal requirement will lapse when the regulations expire on 24 March, but the PM told MPs that date could be brought forward.

Asked by Sky's science and technology editor Tom Clarke about the justification for ending isolation, the health secretary stressed it remained a legal requirement but added the government is reviewing the policy.

He said there is "no decision on that at this point" but pointed out that people with flu are not legally required to isolate and we must "find a way to live with COVID in a similar fashion".

Mr Javid said testing, vaccines and antivirals will be the "cornerstone of our future defences" as "almost all" restrictions end.

"The way we are going to do this is we're going to have to find a way to remove almost all of these restrictions and get life completely back to normal but with one or two really big things that I think will be there for a while," he said.

Speaking at the same briefing as Mr Javid, Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for the UK Health Security Agency, said case numbers will mostly decline but "may plateau at some point".

She said people's behaviour once Plan B measures are lifted will "determine how fast infection can spread in the population".

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