Boris Johnson Confirms Move To Plan B Covid Restrictions After Major Omicron Surge
Boris Johnson announced a raft of new Covid measures to deal with the spread of the Omicron variant (Alamy)
The prime minister has announced a raft of new measures to tackle the spread of the Omicron variant including working from home, mandatory face coverings, and the use of Covid certification.
Boris Johnson unveiled the new measures at a press conference just hours after he launched an inquiry into whether his own Number 10 staff broke Covid restrictions with a Christmas party last year.
He said people in England should work from home where possible again from Monday as the government enacted its “plan B” for dealing with coronavirus this winter.
“I know this will be hard for for many people, but by reducing your contact in the workplace, you will help slow transmission,” the PM explained.
From next Wednesday mandatory Covid certification will be required to enter “nightclubs and venues where large crowds gather”. This will include proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test.
People will have to use the NHS Covid pass to enter unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, seated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 attending.
Mask-wearing will be mandatory in most indoor settings such as theatres or cinemas from Friday, but hospitality venues such as pubs will not require masks.
Johnson begun the briefing by saying: “Since I last spoke to you it's become increasingly clear Omicron is growing much faster than the previous Delta variant, and it's spreading rapidly all around the world.”
He said while there are currently 568 confirmed cases in the UK, the “true number is certain to be much higher”, adding: “Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of Omicron in the UK could currently be between two and three days.
“And while there are some limits on what we can learn from South Africa, because of the different rates of vaccination rates, we're seeing growth in cases here in the UK that now mirrors the rapid increases previously seen in South Africa.”
The PM added: "While the picture may get better, and I sincerely hope that it will, we know that the remorseless logic of exponential growth could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations and therefore, sadly, in death.
“That's why it's now a proportionate and the responsible thing to move to Plan B In England.”
Appearing alongside the PM, England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said there was an "incredibly steep" increase in cases in South Africa, where Omicron was first detected, and "we are now seeing this translate into increases in hospitalisations".
He said the data in the UK was clear cases here were also going up "incredibly fast now", with a doubling rate between two and three days.
"That is an extraordinarily fast rate and you, therefore, can get with very small numbers to very large numbers really quite quickly,” Professor Whitty said.
”At the moment the spread is in younger people who you would not expect to go into hospital. It's once you start moving up the ages and into vulnerable groups that you will start to see that."
Yesterday at a Cabinet meeting the Johnson said the early signs showed the mutation had a higher level of transmissibility than previous versions such as Delta, which accounts for most of the current cases in the UK.
But having spent the past fortnight saying it was too soon to move to “plan B”, the PM said the most recent data showed they must now go further than previously in order to "slow the spread of the virus and give ourselves the time to get yet more boosters into arms”.
Earlier on Wednesday he “apologised unreservedly” for leaked footage showing Downing Street staff joking about an alleged Christmas Party in Number 10, which was said to have taken place on 18 December last year when the rest of the country was facing strict measures.
At Prime Minister’s Questions he also announced that he has instructed Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate claims of an event and its surrounding circumstances.
“It goes without saying that if rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved,” Johnson said.
The woman at the centre of the clip, published by ITV News last night, has now resigned from her role advising the PM.
Allegra Stratton, who was Johnson’s spokesperson on COP26, announced she was stepping down this afternoon and offered her “profound apologies” in a tearful resignation statement outside her home.
"My remarks seemed to make light of the rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey,” she said.
"That was never my intention. I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days and I offer my profound apologies to all of you at home for them.”
At PMQs the senior Tory MP William Wragg accused Johnson of updating the Covid restrictions as a “diversionary tactic” after a raft of criticism over the party allegation.
But a Whitehall source “categorically” denied today’s announcement was a “dead cat” to distract from the fallout.
"It may have happened at same time but that's a coincidence,” they told PoliticsHome.
“Sage don't care about politics at all and the Prime Minister goes by Sage data.
“It's convenient but not a dead cat at all. Number 10 has worked throughout the night on both of those narratives independent of each other.”
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