PM brings back work from home guidance and more face mask rules in 'Plan B' Covid measures

8 December 2021, 18:11 | Updated: 8 December 2021, 21:09

Boris Johnson has brought in Covid Plan B measures
Boris Johnson has brought in Covid Plan B measures. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson has announced new Plan B Covid restrictions to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

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Workers in England have been asked to work from home where possible from Monday, new face mask rules are coming in and revellers at some events will need to use the NHS Covid pass.

Speaking in the now-infamous Downing Street briefing room, in the wake of the fury at a leaked video of No10 staff joking about a Christmas party last year, Mr Johnson said he wanted to "buy ourselves the time to get yet more boosters into arms".

It follows a torrid day for the PM who has continued to say he is assured guidance was followed in December last year, but an investigation will take place.

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He was also accused of attempting a "diversionary" tactic by announcing the Plan B contingency measures by one of his own MPs, which he rejected.

Mr Johnson said it is "increasingly clear Omicron is growing much faster than the previous Delta variant, and it's spreading rapidly all around the world" and it can't be assumed it is less severe.

He has reintroduced work from home guidance, with employers asked to use the rest of the week to put a plan together. The guidance will come in from Monday.

From Friday, masks will be needed in "most" public venues including cinemas and theatres and the NHS Covid pass will be needed in nightclubs and venues with large crowds.

This includes unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and venues with more than 10,000 people.

Pubs and restaurants are exempt from this.

The new measures apply to England but Mr Johnson pledged to work with the devolved administrations on tackling the variant.

"We're seeing growth in cases here in the UK that now mirrors the rapid increases previously seen in South Africa," the PM said.

"And South Africa is also seeing hospitalisations roughly doubling in a week.

"Meaning that we can't yet assume that Omicron is less severe than previous variants, so 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 deaths.

"And that's why it is now the proportionate and the responsible thing to move to Plan B in England while continuing to work closely with our colleagues in the devolved administrations so we slow the spread of the virus, buy ourselves the time to get yet more boosters into arms, especially in the older and more vulnerable people, and understand the answer to the key outstanding questions about Omicron."

Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said Omicron cases had been in young people but it was feared they would rise up the ages.

He added 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".

The Government has already introduced some measures, including requiring arrivals to the UK to show negative Covid tests, to slow Omicron's spread.