Politics

Boris Johnson says Plan B is best chance for ‘close to normal’ Christmas

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In a bid to halt the spread of Omicron, masks will be required in indoor venues, apart from pubs and restaurants, from tomorrow. NHS Covid passes will be needed to enter clubs and large sporting events next week, with employees told to work at home.

Mr Johnson said the curbs would help “buy time” to deliver more booster jabs. He added: “It is not a lockdown. The best way to ensure we all have a Christmas as close to normal as possible is to get on with Plan B.”

But he urged people not to cancel events because of the restrictions, saying Nativity plays and other celebrations should go ahead if guidelines were followed:

“We don’t want kids to be taken out of school before the end of term, we don’t want Nativity plays to be cancelled.

“We think that it’s ok currently on what we can see to keep going with Christmas parties but obviously everybody should exercise due caution, have ventilation.”

The PM called taking a Covid test before a party “sensible”, to give people “confidence that they are going to be meeting someone who is not contagious”.

He made his Plan B announcement after a torrid day at Westminster, with Tory MPs furious over claims that a Downing Street party broke Covid rules last Christmas.

Mr Johnson ordered an inquiry and his former press secretary Allegra Stratton quit when footage revealed her laughing about the gathering.

The PM said: “Omicron is growing much faster than the previous Delta variant and it’s spreading rapidly all around the world.”

Analysis showed there were 568 cases throughout the UK “and the true number is certain to be much higher. Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of Omicron in the UK could currently be between two and three days.”

That might lead to a surge in hospital admissions he warned.

Mr Johnson said England’s Plan B was a “proportionate and responsible” move to “slow the spread of the virus, buy ourselves the time to get yet more boosters into more arms, and especially in the older and more vulnerable people, and understand the answers to the key outstanding questions about Omicron”.

He told employees: “Go to work if you must but work from home if you can. I know this will be hard for many people but by reducing your contacts in the workplace you will help [to] slow transmission.”

Masks will be required in most indoor venues, including theatres and cinemas, except “where it is not practical, such as when eating, drinking, exercising or singing.

“As Omicron spreads in the community, we will also introduce daily tests for contacts instead of isolation, so we keep people safe while minimising the disruption.”

The PM added: “But the single biggest thing that every one of us can do, is to get our jabs.”

Chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty said the country would “get over this” quicker thanks to vaccines and treatments.

He added: “I can see why people feel deflated, but this is a setback, this is not a situation where we are back to Square One.”

Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it was a “bumpy transition” from the coronavirus pandemic to it becoming endemic: “What we are on is a road from pandemic to endemic, where this becomes a more regular infection like flu. There are special measures that need to happen now to reduce the spread.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid did not rule out more curbs but added: “We are in a much better place to avoid any further measures.”

A string of Tory MPs hit out at the move. Ex-minister David Davis said: “Where is the evidence that vaccine passports actually work? France introduced them in the summer, they now have more cases than they had in the last peak.”

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Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of MPs, said: “Initial evidence on Omicron does not support the measures. Plan B is not a cost-free option. Why should people listen to the Prime Minister’s instructions to follow the rules when people inside No 10 Downing Street don’t?”

Matthew Fell, CBI chief policy director, said: “Fresh restrictions are a big setback…particularly for those in hospitality and retail.”

But hospital bosses warned Plan B may have come too late to avoid another lockdown and disruption to NHS care.

Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation which represents trusts in England and Wales, said: “We are relieved the Government has finally listened.

“If there are additional measures that could be taken that do not drastically interfere with people’s daily lives but could make a big difference…it would be reckless not to.”

Analysis by Macer Hall

Tory MP Mark Harper, Chair of the Covid Recovery Group of Conservative MPs, said last night: “The initial evidence on Omicron does not support the measures announced today. The protection from vaccines against serious disease and hospitalisation remains strong.

“Plan B is not a cost-free option. If the Government’s fears about serious disease and hospitalisations are correct, then they have not set out a credible exit strategy from these restrictions.

“Vaccine passports remain pointless and damaging.

“They’re pointless because Covid can transmit among the double jabbed and the Government is telling us even more so with Omicron.

“They’re damaging because they will heap extra costs on businesses in sectors that took some of the biggest hits during the pandemic.

“Working from home is not a cost-free option either. It will batter sectors of the economy that are just getting back on their feet.

“The Government’s own analysis leaked in late October showed that Plan B would cost the economy between £11billion and £18billion in the period up until March 2022 ‑ more than £800 million per week.

“The events of the past few weeks ‑ from the Paterson case to the Christmas party video ‑ have seriously damaged the credibility of those at the very top.

“Why should people listen to the Prime Minister’s instructions to follow the rules when people inside Number 10 Downing Street don’t do so?”

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