New Covid measures announced for Englandon December 8, 2021 at 6:35 pm

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Moving to Plan B in England is the proportionate and responsible thing to do, says Boris Johnson.

A woman wears a Covid-19 face mask as she walks past Christmas lights on December 08, 2021 in Manchester, United Kingdom

Image source, Getty Images

People in England are being asked to work from home again and vaccine passports are being introduced for crowded venues, as part of new rules to limit the spread of Omicron.

Boris Johnson announced the government was moving to Plan B in England – its back-up plan of extra Covid rules.

From Friday, face masks will be compulsory in more public places including theatres and cinemas.

And from Monday, people will be urged to work from home where possible.

The NHS Covid Pass – where people show their vaccine status or that they have tested negative – will also be mandatory in nightclubs and crowded venues.

Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference: “It is now the proportionate and the responsible thing to move to Plan B in England.”

He said while we are still learning about Omicron, and the “picture may get better”, it could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations and sadly in deaths.

The new rules have been announced on the same day that news headlines have been dominated by the row over the Downing Street Christmas party at the height of lockdown rules last December.

Government adviser Allegra Stratton – who was seen with other No 10 staff joking about the party in a leaked video from last year – has resigned, and Mr Johnson apologised for the video, although said he had been repeatedly told there had been no party.

There are currently 568 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK, figures show – although scientists and Mr Johnson said the true total is likely to be higher.

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The government’s plan B – which was unveiled in September – is aimed at stopping the NHS coming under unsustainable pressure.

The measures just announced are:

  • People urged to work from home where possible, from Monday
  • Face masks to be required in more public settings such as theatres and cinemas – but not when eating, drinking, exercising or singing – from this Friday
  • Vaccine passports will be required for visitors to nightclubs, indoor seated venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people. Lateral flow tests can also be used to prove entry.
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Scientists believe Omicron could spread more easily than Delta, and could out-compete Delta to become the dominant variant in the UK.

But much is still unknown, and it could still take weeks to understand how severe illness from the variant is and what it means for the effectiveness of vaccines.

Earlier, government scientific adviser Prof Neil Ferguson said telling people to work from home would mean more time to give booster jabs.

He said the variant was likely to overtake Delta to become dominant in the UK before Christmas.

But existing vaccines should still protect people from severe illness if they get Omicron, the World Health Organization has said.

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Analysis box by Nick Triggle, health correspondent

The measures introduced are not about stopping the spread of Omicron or even reducing the number of cases being seen – they are insufficient for that.Instead, it is about slowing the spread. The big concern is a huge surge of cases that leads to a wave of hospital admissions that could overwhelm the NHS.There are suggestions Omicron is leading to milder illness. There is logic in that as reinfections or infections post vaccination are less likely to lead to serious illness.But if infections rise quickly enough there is still the risk of hospital cases rising. A variant that causes half the amount of serious illness will lead to more people ending up in hospital if infection rates more than double.So the hope is that these measures will flatten and delay the peak. That will allow more boosters to go into arms – and the evidence that is emerging on vaccine effectiveness against the new variant suggests that will make an important difference to the spread of the virus.

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