Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Boris Johnson confirms Omicron ‘Plan B’ with work from home and vaccine passports

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Covid scenes in the UK.
The move comes as the Omicron variant spreads across the UK (Picture: Getty/EPA/PA/AFP)

Boris Johnson has announced that the UK will move to ‘Plan B’, in an effort to stop the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Observers suggested that the move, which had not been rumoured until Tuesday, was conveniently timed – with the Government facing a major public backlash to allegations that Number 10 hosted Christmas parties last winter.

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Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday evening, as the fall out from the party row deepened, the Prime Minister confirmed that he was advising a return to working from home from Monday, ‘if you can’.

Vaccine passports are also being introduced in ‘certain settings’, including nightclubs – but Mr Johnson again ruled out mandatory vaccines.

That means the NHS Covid pass will be made mandatory in England in a week’s time for venues where large crowds gather – including sporting events.

The requirement to wear face masks will also be extended to ‘most indoor settings’, including theatres and cinemas, from Friday.

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The PM said: ‘There will of course be exemptions where it is not practical, such as when eating, drinking, exercising or singing.’

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But he declined to say Christmas parties or nativity plays should be cancelled this year – a move which may confuse experts given the new advice on working from home.

It comes amid growing concerns over Omicron, which is thought to be significantly more transmissible than other versions of the virus and may be more resistant to vaccines.

Mr Johnson warned: ‘It has become increasingly clear that Omicron is growing much faster than the previous Delta variant and is spreading rapidly all around the world.

‘Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of Omicron could currently be between two and three days.’

There are currently 568 confirmed cases of the variant in the country, but experts fear the real number is significantly higher – perhaps even 10,000.

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Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, branded the rise in cases ‘extraordinarily fast’ and ‘incredibly steep’.

But the move comes as the Government came under intense pressure over allegations of festive parties in Downing Street last year – which were supercharged by footage emerging on Tuesday evening showing Downing Street staff joking about one event.

At least two other parties are reported to have occurred while the public were facing harsh restrictions – and as ordinary people were being arrested for holding gatherings and Covid patients were dying in their thousands in hospital.

Boris Johnson said daily testing would be introduced instead of isolation for those who come into contact with infected people.

He said the Government would ‘constantly monitor the data’ but called on everyone to ‘play your part’ and get a booster vaccine when available.

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On vaccine passports, Mr Johnson added: ‘We will also make the NHS Covid pass mandatory for entry into nightclubs and venues where large crowds gather, including unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people.

‘The NHS Covid pass can still be obtained with two doses but we will keep this under review as the boosters roll out.

‘And having taken clinical advice since the emergence of Omicron, a negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient.’

On when the restrictions could be lifted, Mr Johnson said they would be reviewed ‘no later than early January and possibly before’.

The Government’s Plan B guidelines – set out earlier in the year – can be found by clicking here.

Responding to the press conference, Layla Moran MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said: ‘By deciding to remove restrictions wholesale and refusing to introduce minor mitigation measures when so clearly necessary, the Prime Minister paved the road to Plan B.

‘While it’s vitally important people observe these new restrictions/guidelines, the public will understandably find it extremely difficult to take instruction from the Prime Minister when he and those around him continue to show utter disregard for Covid rules.

‘We now call on the prime minister to do everything he can to restore public trust by coming clean about what happened and ensuring a full investigation is conducted in a timely manner.’

Labour has confirmed it will back the move to switch to plan B, saying it is ‘in the national interest’.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

For more stories like this, check our news page.

MORE : Loss, despair and worry: This is what normal people were doing while ‘Number 10 had a Christmas party’

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