He told the House of Commons: “From tomorrow, we will no longer require face masks in classrooms and the Department for Education will shortly remove national guidance on their use in communal areas.
“In the country at large we will continue to suggest the use of face coverings in enclosed or crowded spaces, particularly when you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet – but we will trust the judgment of the British people and no longer criminalise anyone who chooses not to wear one.”
Welcoming the news, Conservative Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates said it was "children who have suffered greatly during the pandemic.
She said: “I am absolutely delighted with (his) announcement that children will no longer be required to wear masks in schools and it’s a welcome and evidence-based return to prioritising the interests of our children who have suffered greatly during the pandemic.
“He knows that I haven’t always been a supporter of restrictions, but does he agree with me that under a Labour government far from being the freest country in Europe, we would have had longer, harder lockdowns and school closures causing immeasurably more harm to the poorest, the youngest and the most vulnerable in our society.”
To which the prime minister replied: “The reality is that they (Labour) would have kept us in lockdown in July and – their response to Omicron was to call for a roadmap back into lockdown, she is totally right.”
Mr Johnson said the changes include the removal of mandatory mask wearing on public transportation and in shops, advice on working from home, and vaccination certificates.
He also stated that the legal requirement for people with Covid-19 to self-isolate will be allowed to lapse when the rules expire on March 24, and that this date may be moved up.
NEU expresses concerns about lifting restrictions too early
However, the announcement does not sit well with teaching unions, who have reportedly expressed concern about the sudden lifting of Covid restrictions, especially the mandatory mask wearing in classrooms.
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: "Schools and colleges are still feeling the impact of Covid.
"The latest ONS (Office of National Statistics) infection survey update shows one in 10 primary age pupils have COVID. While the trend amongst secondary aged children is down it is however uncertain, due to the short time schools have been back since the Christmas holidays, that this trend will continue. Such uncertainty could lead to a pronounced risk of increased disruption with children and staff having to isolate.
"We are concerned to see what the Covid related absence is when figures are released next week. The danger is we lift restrictions too quickly before the effects of returning to school are clear.
"This will result in more education disruption which is extremely worrying particularly for pupils taking national exams this year whose education has been so badly disrupted already."