Boris Johnson shifted to ‘Plan B’ as scientists predict the new Omicron variant will overtake Delta as the most dominant strain of coronavirus within days
All adults in England will be offered Covid boosters by New Year’s Eve as Boris Johnson announced a rapid acceleration of the jabs rollout to battle the Omicron “tidal wave”.
Addressing the nation last night, the Prime Minister said the country was facing an “emergency in our battle with the new variant” – and two jabs will not be enough to protect people.
He warned that Omicron could rip through an un-boosted population, overwhelming the NHS and leading to “very many deaths”.
Covid restrictions are also being ramped up after scientists discovered the new Omicron variant is much more transmissible and spreading rapidly across the UK.
It comes after Boris Johnson announced last week that England would move to the Government’s Plan B measures.
Epidemiologists fear the variant could cause 75,000 deaths by April and that the NHS could be overwhelmed as Omicron looks set to overtake Delta as the dominant variant within days.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) adviser Dr Susan Hopkins warned of a looming wave of infections – and said more measures may be needed.
She said: “It’s inevitable that we’re going to see a big wave of infections. What we are not yet clear on, and which is what we are basically making sure people go out and get their vaccination for, is how much that will affect hospitals.”
So, what do the latest Covid curbs mean for you? Here’s the latest.
Working from home
People in England are being urged to work from home where possible from today. This is aimed at reducing contacts.
The furlough scheme has not returned, however, as no businesses are being shut down at this stage. The advice is to work from home ‘where you can’.
New rules brought into force last Friday mean that anyone aged 18 or over must wear a face mask to enter a wide range of indoor venues.
These include places such as cinemas, casinos and bowling alleys.
The full list:
- community centres (including village halls), youth centres, members clubs and social clubs
- libraries and public reading rooms
- public transport
- polling stations and premises used for the counting of votes
- places of worship
- crematoria and burial ground chapels
- visitor attractions and entertainment venues (museums, galleries, cinemas, indoor theatres, concert halls, cultural and heritage sites, indoor areas at aquariums, zoos and visitor farms, bingo halls, snooker and pool halls, amusement arcades, adventure activity centres, indoor sports stadiums, funfairs, indoor theme parks, casinos, skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor play areas including soft-play areas)
- public areas in hotels and hostels
- indoor areas of sports stadiums
Pubs, bars and nightclubs are exempt. There is also an exemption for singing, which applies to, for example, congregations and choirs.
Technically, a person could avoid wearing a face mask by singing, but the Government has warned protestors attempting to abuse this rule will be stoped.
Daily testing for Covid contacts
From tomorrow, double-jabbed people who come into contact with an infected person will be told to take daily lateral flow tests for seven days instead of isolating.
The new advice applies to all cases of Covid, regardless of whether it is the Omicron variant or other strains.
Unvaccinated adults must continue to self-isolate for 10 days if they are a contact of someone with Covid.
This means strict rules forcing people identified as close contacts of Omicron cases to isolate for 10 days are being scrapped.
From Wednesday, there will be a new restriction on care home visits.
Care home residents will be asked to pick three people to visit and one essential care worker.
From Wednesday, England could be facing the introduction of mandatory covid passes proving your vaccination status to enter some venues, including nightclubs.
So a punter could have proof of double jabbed status or, under the new pass rules, a text message or email from the NHS showing a lateral flow result to get into a venue.
Firms failing to check Covid passes properly may be fined £1,000 and up to £10,000 for repeat offences.
But Boris Johnson is facing a major backlash to the plan as Tory backbenchers look set to vote against the plan. The PM may get the changes though parliament with Labour support but given he is under major pressure over the Christmas parties plan, the rules could be watered down.
What about Christmas?
So far, there are no limits on travel, household mixing and meeting groups of people.
Downing Street has also rejected calls to put new restrictions on hospitality venues, so your Christmas party can still go ahead.
What about a ‘Plan C’?
Officially, there is no Plan C.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Friday there were “no plans to go beyond what we’ve set out already”.
But Omicron could change things, and Health Secretary Sajid Javid is under pressure to bring in more stringent measures before Christmas.
Further measures could include hospitality check-ins, tougher isolation rules, face masks in all indoor venues and further vaccine passport rules.