We're ending our live coverage of coronavirus developments today. Thank you for joining us. Your writers were Adam Durbin, Malu Cursino, Chris Giles, Doug Faulkner and George Wright. The page was edited by Emma Owen, George Bowden and Kevin Ponniah.
As we draw our live coverage to a close - here's a summary of the key coronavirus developments:
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the end to Plan B measures in England
- This includes scrapping face masks in most places, ending Covid passes from 27 January and abolishing a work-from-home order immediately
- People will still need to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid, but both the PM and Health Secretary Sajid Javid have indicated this will not last forever
- Secondary school students will no longer need to wear masks in classrooms from tomorrow, with their use in common areas to end from next Thursday too
- The UK has reported 108,069 new daily Covid cases and 359 deaths with Covid on Wednesday
- At a news conference, Javid said the Omicron variant was "in retreat" and the end to Plan B marks a new chapter in the UK's journey to living with Covid
- However, NHS bosses have warned the health service remains under significant pressure and have called on the public to not be complacent, even with the end of restrictions
- The prime minister continues to face significant scrutiny over parties in Downing Street, with a dramatic defection of a backbencher to Labour ahead of PMQs and growing calls for his resignation
- Copyright: JAROMÍR ZAJDA ZAJÍČEK
Elsewhere, and a folk singer from the Czech Republic has died after deliberately catching Covid, her son has told the BBC.
Hana Horka, 57, was unvaccinated and had posted on social media that she was recovering after testing positive, but died two days later.
Her son, Jan Rek, said she got infected on purpose when he and his father had the virus, so she could get a recovery pass to access certain venues.
The Czech Republic reported a record number of cases on Wednesday.
One of the consequences of seeing so much infection, so much spread of the virus, is that we're seeing a growing number of what are called "coincidental deaths".
This is where people test have tested positive but they haven't been sick with the virus.
Then they have died within 28 days of that positive test but it is nothing to do with the positive test and we're beginning to see more of this.
I think the Office of National Statistics is going to have a look at this so we have a real idea of just how many people are dying due to the virus.
Education correspondentCopyright: Getty Images
Away from changes to restrictions - an inquiry is being launched into children who are not attending school in the wake of national lockdowns, the children's commissioner for England has said.
Dame Rachel de Souza told BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour programme about 95% of children were usually in school at this time of year - but now, this figure was about 87%.
Some absences were down to illness and Covid, she said, but other children had simply failed to return following classroom closures during the pandemic.
In addition, between 80,000 and 100,000 children were not on any school rolls at all, she said.
"Literally, I am going to go out and find them," she added.
The Department for Education said its "top priority" was supporting children to attend school and college.
You can read the full story here.
For anyone just catching up with our coverage, you can watch some of the key moments from Health Secretary Sajid Javid speaking at the news conference about the end of Plan B in England.
- Copyright: PA Media
Sajid Javid has just hosted a news conference at Downing Street. Here are the key points:
- The health secretary says he is angry and pained by allegations of parties at Downing Street during Covid restrictions but that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to properly respond to an investigation into the claims
- The British people can make an ultimate judgement for themselves when the investigation is published, Javid adds
- Confirming the end of most Plan B measures in England, he says the changes mark the start of the next chapter of living with Covid in the UK
- Ending work-from-home guidance and face mask requirements in classrooms are some of the first changes that will take effect
- Vaccination, testing, and anti-virals will continue to play a part in the UK's response to Covid into the future
- Javid suggests that by the end of March we will begin to live with Covid without self-isolation policies
- But he adds "this is not the end of the road" and warns "there will be future variants"
Meanwhile, the UK has reported 108,069 new daily Covid cases and 359 deaths with Covid on Wednesday.
The Financial Times asks about the "ongoing anger" in the UK over Downing Street parties, and Javid says he has also been angered and pained by the revelations.
He adds Boris Johnson has rightly apologised and reiterates calls for people to wait for the outcome of an investigation into the lockdown gatherings in No 10 and other government departments.
In response to a follow up question about evidence for decision making, the health secretary says the government has been transparent throughout the pandemic and would will continue to be so.
Javid adds the government is looking at expanding the definition of fully vaccinated to three doses of a vaccine, rather than the current two jabs.
The news conference ends.
- Copyright: epa
Dr Susan Hopkins from the UK Health Security Agency says Covid case numbers have declined and adds “it’s people’s behaviour that is going to make the difference over the next four weeks”.
She says people need to be careful when returning to the office and also take care using public transport, indoor spaces and in crowded places.
She recommends people continue to wear face coverings, even thought they won’t be mandatory and to ensure they are fully vaccinated.
She says the more people who are vaccinated, the less likely we will see mass Covid transmission.
The health secretary is challenged by Jane Merrick from the i newspaper as to whether Boris Johnson just "got lucky" that Plan B worked. The journalist says the PM wanted stronger restrictions but was blocked by members of his cabinet and Tory MPs.
Javid responds by saying Johnson "has shown leadership throughout" and that he has had to balance conflicting issues and come to a judgement over restrictions.
"The decision that he made to absolutely focus on boosters has been vindicated," he says.
Asked if he can rule out the return of Plan B if a new variant of concern emerges, Javid says "this pandemic is still with us" and "this is not the end of the road".
"There will be future variants," he warns.Copyright: Getty Images
On whether the current daily Covid death toll of 359 is something the country needs to be comfortable with in the future, the health secretary says vaccines have meant the death rate has fallen dramatically.
He adds the Omicron variant is milder than previous variants and if you look at the average daily death rate, it is around 200 people.
Javid says it is important to point out that around 40% of people with Covid in hospital are there not because they have Covid, but have tested positive after being admitted.
Asked whether the UK will be effectively be living with no restrictions by the end of March, Javid points out that a third of all UK cases since the pandemic began are linked to Omicron.
He says that there will still be some requirements and restrictions, including lateral flow tests for those arriving in England.
"But we are going to have to find a way to remove almost all of these restrictions and get life back to normal with one or two things there for a while," Javid adds, citing annual vaccinations for some of those most at risk, as well as testing and anti-virals.Copyright: PA Media
- Copyright: Getty Images
Asked by Sky News about plans to end self-isolation rules entirely, Sajid Javid says no decision has yet been taken.
He adds it is important to keep this in place for the moment, but the evidence will be under constant review.
It is reasonable that the government will eventually no longer legally require people who test positive for Covid to self-isolate, he says, making the point that people with flu are not asked to do so.
Earlier Javid said the UK needed to learn to live with Covid in the long-term, as it does with flu.
BBC health editor Hugh Pym asks Sajid Javid: "How can the PM continue to lead the country when one of his most senior MPs in the Commons has called on him to resign?"
Javid says that "what we've seen in the last few weeks... has caused a lot of pain and anger".
He says that he absolutely understands this and that Johnson has rightly apologised and asked for time and space for an investigation to be completed. The PM will be happy to be scrutinised when the facts have been established, Javid adds.
- Copyright: BBC
Michelle from Lincolnshire asks about the reduction of the self-isolation period to 5 days with two negative tests.
In response Dr Susan Hopkins from the UK Health Security Agency says people with two negative tests can be released earlier as it allows people to return to work and school.
She explains the change is in response to emerging evidence.
- Copyright: Reuters
Dr Susan Hopkins from the UK Health Security Agency has been outlining the NHS' successful booster campaign.
She says: “We have now got, compared to comparable countries across Europe and North America, the highest rate of boosters in our population overall.”
She adds “the strongest defence we have against the Omicron wave that we’re now experiencing and any future waves of variants… is vaccination.”
- Copyright: Reuters
Christina from Berkshire asks Javid if, given the increasing number of hospitalisation of children with Covid-19, there are plans to vaccinate children under 12.
Javid says the focus at the moment is on children over 12, but that she is right to raise younger children. He says that the advice from independent experts is that the under-12s who are at risk should be vaccinated.
But the experts are considering whether to widen this advice to all under-12s like in other countries.
Javid says the NHS is still facing "significant pressure" and says the country must "proceed with caution".
"A pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint", he says.
The health secretary reiterates calls for people to continue to get vaccinated and boosted, adding it was "the jabs that have got us this far and the jabs can keep us here too".Copyright: Getty Images
- Copyright: Getty Images
Laying out the plans for removing Plan B restrictions, Javid says the government is also looking at removing mandatory self-isolation for people who contract Covid-19.
He adds they intend to set out plans to reduce restrictions on visiting care homes soon.
The health secretary adds that removing restrictions is a "major milestone but not the end of the road" and the government intends to set out its plan for living with Covid in the coming weeks.
"We shouldn’t see this as the finish line," he says. "We cannot eradicate this virus and its future variants."
Javid says Plan B succeeded giving the government extra time to combat Omicron and the newest data shows Omicron is "in retreat".
The health secretary adds that hospitalisations have fallen and patients in intensive care are at the same levels as they were in July.