Eddie Mair 4pm - 6pm
Analysis: 'Freedom Day' announcement means the government believes Covid is over
21 February 2022, 17:35 | Updated: 21 February 2022, 17:49
It is a momentous day - one that so often over the last two years felt like it would never come. But this week, Boris Johnson announced this afternoon, the Covid-19 pandemic will end, in legal terms at least.
From Thursday, all legal restrictions - some of which have been in place since March 2020 - will be scrapped.
That includes ditching the requirement to isolate if you test positive for Covid - a total contrast to the approach we’ve got so used to over the last two years - though for now people with Covid will still be advised to limit their contact.
People will no longer be asked to do daily tests if they’ve come into contact with Covid, and the testing and contact tracing systems will be virtually dismantled.
From April 1, there will be further changes. Tests will no longer be free and people with Covid won’t even be advised to stay at home.
Covid-19 has become endemic in this country (and many others), meaning it is here to stay whatever we do. Because of that, it has long been the case that we would have to learn to live with it.
The big question, until now, was: when?
It had been expected that the remaining restrictions would repealed in the spring, but Boris Johnson has decided to move sooner.
There is no doubt that this a risk. The NHS is still under huge pressure, staff are exhausted and the backlog of appointments and procedures is staggeringly big.
And there are other risks to ditching all restrictions, including increasing the prospect of troublesome new variants emerging. That’s why some scientists believe the measures are announced today are reckless and wrong.
What’s more, massively scaling back the testing system will make it much harder for experts to keep track of the pandemic, including the new variants that will inevitably emerge.
But the view in government is that this moment had to come at some point and with most people having got good protection from vaccinations and/or prior infection, while Covid treatments continue to improve, that point should be now.
The row over the changes announced today will be continue but what is clear is that the government believes the pandemic that has dominated our lives since early 2020 is now over.
After the highs and many lows of the last two years, after all the triumphs and the traumas, that is a fact well worth reflecting on, if not celebrating.