Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a move to tighter coronavirus restrictions, including guidance for people to work from home where possible.
Mr Johnson announced a move to the Government’s winter ‘Plan B’ of tackling COVID-19 in a press conference from Downing Street on Wednesday evening. As well as a return to advice on working from home, valid COVID-status certification will be required for entry to nightclubs and major events from next week.
The requirement to wear face coverings will also be extended to most indoor venues.
The announcement of tighter restrictions comes on the same day in which the Prime Minister and other politicians faced calls to resign over an apparent Christmas party that took place during lockdown last December. The row, which has provoked significant public outrage, has so far seen government spokesperson Allegra Stratton resign from her post. The Prime Minister has also been publicly mocked and heavily criticised by politicians from both sides of the Commons, as well as by celebrities and TV broadcasters.
The Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer has described the Prime Minister as ‘socially distanced from the truth’ over the COVID rule-breaking allegations.
Speaking at PMQs on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said he “apologises unreservedly” for the offence a video about the alleged party caused, but said he had been ‘repeatedly assured’ that no party had been held. The PM has said he has asked the Cabinet Secretary to launch an investigation.
Some have suggested that the extent to which members of the public will comply with the new restrictions may be impacted as a result of the row over the alleged party, and other instances where senior politicians have reportedly and in some cases been confirmed to have broken COVID-19 restrictions.
The Prime Minister said on Wednesday evening that the new measures are being imposed as a result of uncertainty over the Omicron variant of COVID-19 which is thought to be more transmissible than previous variants, and spreading across the country.
The variant is understood to have a doubling time of 2-3 days and is growing much faster than the Delta variant. 568 cases of the Omicron variant have been found in the UK to date, though the actual number of cases is expected to be higher.
Cases of COVID-19 have been rising in the UK recently, with cases up by 11.3% over the last 7 days, compared to the previous 7 day period. On Wednesday, 51,342 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the UK, while 161 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test were also reported.
To date, 145,987 people have died in the UK within 28 days of a positive test for COVID-19.
How did MPs react?
A statement was made in the House of Commons by Health Secretary Sajid Javid while the Prime Minister was addressing the media.
Labour’s Wes Streeting said his party will support the measures in the national interest but claimed that the damage the Prime Minister has done to public trust in the rules is ‘incalculable’. Mr Javid announced that the measures would be voted on by MPs next week.
Conservative MP Sir Graham Brady described the restrictions as ‘deja vu’, while Dr Liam Fox MP described the new measures as ‘difficult to justify’. Esther McVey MP said that the new restrictions will have an effect on mental health, jobs, the economy, livelihoods and children’s development.
Mr Javid said in the Commons that the new restrictions will sunset on 26 January.
What are the new restrictions?
- Government guidance will state that from Monday, people should work from home if possible.
- Face coverings will be mandatory in most indoor places from Friday, except where deemed impractical.
- COVID-status certification (proof of double vaccination or a recent negative lateral flow test) will be required from a week’s time for entry to unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 people.
- The rules for COVID contacts will change, and people will be required to take daily tests instead of isolate.
Decisions over restrictions moving forward will be based on data around the efficacy of vaccines and boosters, the severity of the Omicron variant, the speed of its spread and the number of coronavirus-related hospital admissions.
The restrictions announced by the Prime Minister will be applicable in England, with the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland having the power to set their own restrictions.