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England eases virus restrictions, claiming success in curbing omicron spread

Coronavirus restrictions are being lifted in England on Thursday as the country moves out of the government’s COVID Plan B. The move comes as “hospital admissions stabilize, omicron infections decline and the number of people in intensive care with COVID-19 continues to fall,” read a government statement. Face masks will not be mandatory in indoor venues, COVID passes no longer required for large gatherings, and offices will reopen throughout the country.  Authorities are attributing the drop in omicron cases to a successful booster jab drive, with the statement saying that the rollout had slashed “the risk of severe infection and hospitalizations, easing pressure on the NHS (National Health Service).” The number of COVID-19 cases has plummeted over the past two weeks, but still remains at high levels, with Wednesday’s daily infections tally in the in the UK at 102,292 and a death toll of 346. The government is still advising people to either avoid large gatherings or continue to wear masks at such events.  Masks are still mandatory in healthcare facilities such as hospitals, care homes, and pharmacies. Local officials will also be able to recommend the use of masks in communal areas. “Our vaccines, testing and antivirals ensure we have some of the strongest defenses in Europe and are allowing us to cautiously return to Plan A, restoring more freedoms to this country,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on the eve of the changes. The easing of restrictions also follows a government review of national data last week, which analyzed infection rates, vaccine efficacy, pressures on the NHS, workplace absences, public behavior, and opinions in the scientific community. In its conclusion, the UK Health Security Agency said vaccines continue to act as the main defense against the virus, with booster jabs offering 92% protection against hospitalization and being 65%-75% effective against the omicron strain. Earlier this week, the government ended testing for double-vaccinated travelers entering England, a move celebrated by travel and tour companies who have been hit hard during the pandemic.

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