Is Plan B enough to thwart Omicron? Row over No10 strategy as experts warn WFH and Covid passports WON’T stop spiralling cases, sparking fears another lockdown may be needed… but Tories and business chiefs say move will be a ‘hammer blow’ to traders
Scientists and business leaders slammed No10’s decision to push the panic button and implement Plan B today, but for entirely different reasons.
Experts fear the Government’s WFH guidance and introduction of vaccine passports will do little to prevent the impending Omicron wave, which spooked ministers into taking tougher action.
Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist based at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline he was ‘pessimistic’ the back-up strategy would work.
It will inevitably raise questions as to whether even harsher restrictions will need to be adopted in the coming weeks, if cases of the super-mutant variant show no signs of slowing.
Tory MPs tonight reacted with fury to Boris Johnson’s announcement in a gloomy Downing Street press conference, with politicians heckling Health Secretary Sajid Javid as he confirmed the plans in the Commons at the same time.
Backbenchers accused the Government of abandoning plans to ‘learn to live with Covid’ and questioned the data used to justify the restrictions.
Fears were also raised that the measures, which kick into effect from next week, will plunge the already-crippled hospitality industry into despair.
Business chiefs in hospitality and entertainment industries said the WFH advice will be a ‘hammer blow’ to businesses during the busiest months of the year.
Other sectors of England’s economy warned the move to make the NHS Covid pass compulsory in nightclubs and venues with large crowds would be ‘devastating’.
Professor Paul Hunter (left), an epidemiologist based at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline he was ‘pessimistic’ the back-up strategy would work. Professor Christina Pagel (right), a mathematician at University College London, said
What are the new Covid rules in England?
Boris Johnson announced this evening that the Government is implementing its Covid Plan B.
The return of work from home guidance. People will be told to work from home in England from Monday if they are able to.
Face masks will be made compulsory in most public indoor venues including in cinemas and theatres from this Friday. They will not be required in pubs, restaurants and gyms.
The NHS Covid pass will be compulsory to gain access to nightclubs and other large venues where large crowds gather.
This will apply to all 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.
Two vaccine doses will be treated as fully-vaccinated but this will be kept under review because of the booster programme.
A negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient.
This requirement will be rolled out in one week’s time to give businesses time to prepare.
Contacts of Omicron cases will be told to take daily coronavirus tests instead of having to self-isolate. They will have to quarantine if they test positive.
Professor Hunter told MailOnline: ‘I am quite pessimistic that we could control the spread of omicron at present.
‘But I am hopeful that because we have both high vaccine coverage and high prior infection and because we are rolling out the booster dose better than virtually anywhere else we can at least manage the impact of the increase in omicron.
‘I think plan B would be enough to push R below 1.0 for most delta, though uncertain it would stop AY.4.2 — Delta plus.’
He continued: ‘It would be nowhere near enough to push R for Omicron even close to 1.0. So even with plan B we can still expect to see rapid growth with omicron.
‘I doubt even if we had acted earlier we would have done much to stop spread of omicron for very long.’
And Professor Christina Pagel, a mathematician at University College London, said: ‘I think many elements of Plan B could help slow spread.
‘But vaccine passports seem entirely pointless when we have already seen superspreader events of Omicron in fully vaxxed groups.
‘With many reports of superspreading Omicron events among fully vaccinated people, it is not clear that vaccine passports will do much to slow it down and risk distracting the government and the public from other more effective measures.’
With experts doubting the restrictions will have any effect on stemming the tide of cases expected — and even hinting more restrictions may be necessary — Tory MPs slammed the decision to announce Plan B today.
Former cabinet minister Dr Liam Fox said: ‘On the evidence that we’ve seen so far I think it’s difficult to justify these extra measures, but I do welcome the shift from isolation to daily tests — which is sensible.
‘But in the bigger picture we cannot allow permanent threats of overloading the NHS as a means to maintain semi-permanent restrictions on our people.’
William Wragg shouted ‘resign’ when Mr Javid confirmed the introduction of Covid certification based on vaccines or tests in nightclubs and large events.
As he said the measures were not something ministers wanted to take, shouts of ‘rubbish’ and ‘what a load of old tripe’ could be heard in the chamber.
When Mr Javid announced an extension of the legal requirement for face coverings, Labour MPs pointed at some Tory MPs who were not wearing them in the chamber.
And business leaders described the NHS Covid pass mandatory in nightclubs and venues where large crowds gather as ‘devastating news’ for the sector.
At a Downing Street press conference, the PM declared that people should once again work from home where possible, as well as extending use of masks and introducing Covid passports for nightclubs
UK’s PM Boris Johnson orders return to WFH, more masks and COVID passports
At a Downing Street press conference, the PM declared that people should once again work from home where possible, as well as extending use of masks and introducing Covid passports for nightclubs.
But Mr Johnson faces an uphill struggle to win over the public with No10 itself in meltdown over allegations of an illegal Christmas party a year ago.
The premier said it was necessary to move to Plan B to ‘buy time’ for the NHS and to learn more about the new strain.
‘It has become increasingly clear that Omicron is growing much faster than the previous Delta variant and is spreading rapidly all around the world,’ he said.
While 568 cases had been confirmed in the UK ‘the true number is certain to be much higher’ – potentially as many as 10,000.
‘Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of Omicron could currently be between two and three days.’
Masks will be required in venues such as cinemas and theatres from Friday, but hospitality will be exempt.
Mr Johnson said that negative lateral flow tests will be acceptable as well as NHS Covid passports at venues such as nightclubs and large events.
‘We will give businesses a week’s notice so this will come into force in a week’s time,’ he said.
The PM said from Monday people should go to their offices if they ‘must’ but work from home ‘if you can’.
UK Hospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls, said: ‘While the government clearly acknowledges that hospitality is safe and can continue to host celebrations in the lead up to Christmas, the measures announced today will significantly impact consumer confidence and be particularly devastating to city and town centre venues.
‘As such, they risk devastating the hospitality sector amid its most important time of the year.
‘We therefore desperately need support if we are to survive this latest set of restrictions and urge the government to stand behind our industry.’
Greg Parmley, chief executive of music industry trade body LIVE, said new rules about the NHS Covid pass for nightclubs and venues created an ‘unfair double standard’.
Mr Parmley said: ‘The introduction of Plan B results is an unfair double standard that allows people to go on all-day pub crawls in crowded bars without having to prove their Covid status, whilst live music venues get hit with certification.
‘Across the country, music venues and events already have tried, tested and workable systems in place to ensure that live events continue to be safe — and these remain effective.
‘However, after such a prolonged closure throughout the pandemic it is important the industry is able to remain open and that the Government have listened to the industry and included the use of lateral flow testing in Covid certification.’
And Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, criticised the decision to make the NHS Covid pass mandatory in England for nightclubs and venues where large crowds gather.
He said: ‘Today’s announcement of Plan B by the Government is devastating news for nightlife sector.
‘Vaccine Passports have a damaging impact on Night Time Economy businesses, as we have seen in other parts of the UK where they have been implemented like Scotland — where trade is down 30 per cent — and Wales, where it down 26 per cent.
‘The UK Government have twice ruled out Vaccine Passports before twice changing their mind.
‘The mixed public health messages this week that have been coming out of the Government have arrived at the worst possible time — the pre-Christmas period is absolutely crucial for our sector.
Mr Kill continued: ‘And now it is announced damaging Vaccine Passports are to be implemented.
‘Far from saving Christmas, the Prime Minister has given our sector the horrible present of more pain for businesses desperately trying to recoup losses from earlier in the pandemic.
‘The fact that businesses have only been given one week to make such an enormous change to their operating model is an additional insult.’
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company which represents 600 brands, restaurants and businesses in London’s West End, said the work from home order will be a ‘hammer blow’ to businesses in the Christmas months.
He said: ‘While our top priority remains the safety and wellbeing of our customers and colleagues, and we fully support mandatory mask wearing in shops, the renewed ‘work from home’ order during the most important trading period of the year is a hammer blow for our retail and leisure tenants.
‘Many businesses have committed time and money in their Christmas plans in a bid to make up for last year’s losses — vital investment that they won’t be able to recoup.’