Johnson announces move to ‘plan B’ Covid restrictions citing Omicron spread

Sienna Rodgers
© Pippa Fowles/No 10 Downing Street

Boris Johnson has confirmed at the latest coronavirus press conference today that England will return to ‘plan B’ restrictions due to the “remorseless logic of exponential growth” as applied to the spread of the Omicron variant.

From Monday, everyone is advised to work from home if they can. From Friday, the legal requirement to wear masks in indoor venues will be extended. From one week’s time, the NHS Covid pass will be mandatory for nightclubs and other venues.

The Prime Minister said the reintroduction of these measures would slow the spread of the virus, buy ourselves the time to get our booster doses of the vaccine and allow more understanding of the Omicron variant.

“We are seeing growth in the UK that now mirrors the rapid increase seen in South Africa,” the Prime Minister explained. He also told the public that we “cannot assume that Omicron is less severe than previous variants”.

Announcing the move to ‘Plan B’, which the government had resisted doing so far but Labour called for in October, Johnson said those with two doses of the vaccine could get a Covid pass or those with a negative result on a lateral flow test.

“As we learn more, so we will be guided by the hard medical data around four key criteria: the efficacy of our vaccines and our boosters, the severity of Omicron, the speed of its spread and the rate of hospitalisations,” the Prime Minister said.

In response to the ‘plan B’ news, the Trades Union Congress and transport union TSSA have called for the return of furlough. The TUC’s Frances O’Grady has advocated a “permanent short-time working scheme”.

Amid reports of Downing Street Christmas parties being held last year when they were banned in law due to Covid restrictions, a video was leaked showing the Prime Minister’s spokesperson Allegra Stratton and other No 10 staffers laughing about one such party.

Johnson told the press conference: “I make no excuses for the frivolity with which the subject was handled in that rehearsal that people saw in that clip and there can be no excuse for it. I can totally understand how infuriating it was.”

Reacting to the tearful resignation of Stratton today, he continued: “But I want to say that Allegra has been a fine colleague, has achieved a great deal in her time in government and was a particularly effective spokesperson for COP26.”

The Prime Minister added to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, who had put a question to him: “If you’ll forgive, I wanted to say that, because this has been a sad day for her as well as an infuriating event for many people around the country.”

Asked why the investigation announced today will only look at one alleged Christmas party rather than all of those alleged to have taken place, Johnson said: “The Cabinet Secretary will conduct an inquiry into what took place on December 18th.

“As for other events – dates – that you mentioned, as far as I’m aware, to the best of my knowledge, we have followed the rules throughout. Indeed, as far as I’m aware, the rules were followed on December the 18th as well.”

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