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COVID-19 in Europe: England ends all restrictions and removes isolation rule

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By Euronews  with AP, AFP
Workers walk over London Bridge towards the City of London financial district.
Workers walk over London Bridge towards the City of London financial district.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Matt Dunham

All coronavirus restrictions have been lifted in England, the British government has announced.

Citizens who test positive for COVID-19 will still be advised to stay at home for at least five days, but are no longer obliged to self-isolate. The routine tracing of infected people’s contacts has also been scrapped.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that the UK is moving “from legal restrictions to personal responsibility" and set out his Conservative government’s strategy for “living with COVID” in the longer term.

The British Medical Association warned that Johnson’s strategy fails to protect the most vulnerable people and those at the highest risk of harm from COVID-19.

England already eased most virus restrictions in January, after infection rates and hospitalisations fell following a surge in late December.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which set their own public health rules, have similarly opened up though at different paces.

Some other European countries, including Denmark and Sweden, have also recently lifted all COVID-19 restrictions.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has announced that the country will lift its COVID-19 state of emergency on 31 March.

The emergency measure has been in place since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 when Italy was at the epicentre of infections.

The aim is to "reopen everything as quickly as possible" after more than two years, Draghi said in a speech on Wednesday.

The announcement means that many of Italy's anti-virus restrictions will be gradually lifted from 1 April.

Citizens will no longer have to quarantine if they come into contact with an infected patient, while facemasks will not be compulsory in schools. The obligation to present a "green pass" to attend outdoor events may also be removed.

"The epidemiological situation is improving markedly, thanks to the success of the vaccination campaign," the Italian Prime Minister added.

Several other European countries have also announced a lifting of anti-COVID restrictions, including Iceland, Poland, and Slovakia.

The Icelandic government has confirmed that it would lift all measures on Thursday despite a high number of infections.

"We are returning to normal life but the virus is still with us," Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said after a government meeting in Reykjavik.

In the past 24 hours, the country has recorded 2,885 additional cases, and Jakobsdóttir has not ruled out re-imposing measures if needed.

Health authorities in Poland have also announced the EU member state will lift most of its restrictions by the end of the month.

From March 1, there will be no limit on the number of people allowed inside restaurants and theatres, although customers will still have to wear facemasks indoors and observe social distancing.

Nightclubs will also reopen on Tuesday, while capacity restrictions on public transport, in shopping centres and sports venues will also be lifted.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said the Polish government will decide whether to lift the mandatory wearing of masks in the coming weeks.

Slovakia will also lift most of its COVID-19 restrictions over the next month, according to plans approved by the government on Wednesday.

The first phase of the easing measures for unvaccinated citizens will begin on Saturday, before a second phase to end limits on crowds and opening hours on March 26.

Despite many countries easing measures, anti-vaccine demonstrations continue to take place across Europe amid debates over vaccine mandates.

In Bulgaria, several hundred people staged a protest rally organised by the nationalist Revival party on Wednesday in the capital Sofia.

Demonstrators waved national flags and party banners while calling on the government to step down over its “failure to handle the health crisis.”

The Bulgarian government has proposed gradually removing restrictions, but anti-vaccine protesters have called for an immediate end to mandatory facemasks and the use of health passes.

The eastern Balkan country plans to lift all of its anti-virus measures by March 20.