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UK minister says Britain is moving beyond the pandemic

Hopes it will be ‘one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic’.
Nadhim Zahawi says regular testing, vaccines, boosters and antiviral treatments will form the key parts of the country’s efforts to return to normality. Image: Chris J Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Britain’s education secretary said the country is “on a path towards transitioning from pandemic to endemic” as the government drafts plans to live with Covid-19.

Becoming the first cabinet minister to back moves to cut the self-isolation period for people who contract the virus to five days from seven, Nadhim Zahawi on Sunday told the BBC that regular testing alongside vaccines, boosters and antiviral treatments would form the key parts of the country’s efforts to return to normality.

He also told Sky News that he hoped the UK would be “one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic, and then deal with this – however long it remains with us, whether five, six, seven, 10 years.”

Isolation times

He suggested that if approved by the government’s scientific advisors, reducing isolation times would ease staff shortages, especially in schools, some of which are grappling with as much as 40% of staff absent, though the overall absentee rate is about 8.5%, up only slightly from recent levels.

This was bound to increase, he said, telling the BBC that the next two weeks would be “bumpy.”

The former vaccines minister said the government is doing everything it can to ensure schools can stay open and that important exams, including GCSEs and A-levels, go ahead. That includes speeding up its school vaccination programme and increasing the number of lateral flow tests.

He denied that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was set to announce plans to restrict provision of free lateral flow tests to high-risk settings such as hospitals and schools due to concerns over cost, as reported by The Sunday Times. The newspaper’s analysis suggests £6 billion (R127 billion) has already been spent on mass testing using the devices.

“This is absolutely not where we are at,” Zahawi insisted on Sky.

With assistance from Deirdre Hipwell.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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