BORIS Johnson’s plan to end isolation for coronavirus infection in England is a “gamble” likely to result in an increase in cases in the UK and continued pressure on the NHS, an immunology expert has warned.

Professor Neil Mabbott told the Sunday National that releasing all the restrictions at once would “inevitably” see a rebound in cases and even create a new variant that could be resistant to vaccination.

He said Johnson’s decision to scrap measures in England from Thursday such as the mandatory wearing of facemasks, along with the ending of self-isolation in March, would put pressure on the devolved administrations if they wanted to ease ­restrictions more cautiously.

“We have a separate administration but it will put pressure on decisions in Scotland if people are looking down south and asking how can they do that,” said Mabbott, chair of ­immunopathology at the ­University of Edinburgh. “At the same time there will be people visiting Scotland who may have coronavirus but who don’t legally, in England at least, have to isolate.

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“It is one of those gambles as far as I can see and gives the impression everything is over and the virus is no longer a concern.

“We need to bear in mind that even when we reach the endemic stage of the coronavirus, that does not mean mild and the virus is no longer a concern. There are many ­other diseases that are endemic around the world but still a ­serious concern, malaria being one of them. They are responsible for serious deaths and ­morbidity in those areas that are ­affected by them.

“If we release all the brakes rapidly, inevitably we are going to see an increase in transmission and a rebound of either Omicron or another variant, should another one be around, and of course there will be fewer checks and balances to prevent that spread.”

Mabbott said that while it was ­important to start thinking about how to move forward, it was equally important to choose the right time to begin to release restrictions and get back to a more “normal” lifestyle.

However, he pointed out that March, when the Prime Minister wants self-isolation rules to be lifted in England, was not long away.

“It’s not a long time and while ­cases appear to be going down they are still much higher than they were for the Delta variant at the ­beginning of ­December,” said Mabbott. “Then they were approaching around 40,000 ­cases a day UK wide and they are bumping around 100,000 at the ­moment, with 2000-2500 people a day going into hospitals.

“There is still a lot of coronavirus around and that again provides an opportunity for another variant to appear in the UK. We have so much vaccination a variant could arise which could potentially avoid the vaccination.”

While there is reason to be “cautiously optimistic”, careful thought had to be given to releasing measures and it should be done in stages with the effect of the release of each one being closely monitored, he said.

“Releasing everything all at once is inevitably going to see a rebound, especially when there are such high amounts of the virus in circulation,” said Mabbott. “Of course, we might be in a different situation by March but still should be led by the scientific and epidemiological data. We should be optimistic going forward but we need to be cautious at the same time and not throw everything away.”

Mabbott said it was also crucial to ensure vaccines were made readily available to other countries.

“What we need to be thinking about is how we get to a more comfortable stage globally and that is by ensuring we get those vaccines out to the rest of the world,” he said. “Places where there are much lower rates of vaccination are going to be hotspots for new variants, as was the case for Omicron. In Africa alone only 20% of the population are fully vaccinated.”

The National: A man wearing a face mask walks past a coronavirus advice sign

Facemask rules, Covid passports and working from home guidance will be ditched in England from Thursday.

In addition, the Prime Minister has said the legal requirement to self-isolate after contracting coronavirus will end on March 24 and the date could be brought forward.

Opposition to the swift lifting of the measures has been voiced by Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, who said ministers would “regret sending the wrong signal to the public for political expediency”.

Unison, the UK’s largest health union, also warned that ditching plan B “in one fell swoop” risked the progress that had been made.

General secretary Christina McAnea said: “Rather than allowing a free-for-all, ministers should be urging caution and encouraging continued mask-wearing on transport, in public places and in schools, where it can still make a real difference.”