What are the new Covid rules in England?
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.
The PM dramatically triggered ‘Plan B’ measures to control the rampant Omicron strain at a press conference last night, with fears that infections are now doubling every few days and the NHS could be crippled.
Millions of office staff will be urged to work from home from Monday, while masks will be required in theatres and cinemas, and Covid passports are being introduced for nightclubs and large venues.
But Mr Johnson stressed that office Christmas parties should go ahead, sparking derision from critics. Desperate businesses have complained that the differing restrictions for venues ‘don’t make any sense’.
Dozens of Conservative MPs are now threatening to rebel against the measures when a Commons vote is held next week – although support from Labour means they will still pass.
Backbencher Marcus Fysh said today that the latest curbs are an ‘utter disgrace’, while former chief whip Mark Harper has questioned whether the government has the moral authority to impose the limits given the row over rules being flouted in Downing Street.
There was a further setback when the NHS Covid pass website crashed for several hours last night.
In signs of Cabinet tensions, Sajid Javid this morning dismissed a hint from the PM that mandatory vaccination might be looked at in future, saying that would be ‘ethically wrong’.
And the Health Secretary revealed that he refused to continue with a scheduled round of broadcast interviews yesterday because he was ‘upset’ by the bombshell video of No10 aides giggling about an alleged lockdown-busting festive gathering last year.
Mr Javid insisted it is ‘proportionate’ to urge people not to go to the office
The scale of the damage to the Tories from the partying revelations, which followed the sleaze row, has been underlined with a poll showing 63 per cent of voters think the PM should resign.
Labour also had a four-point lead in the Redfield & Wilton poll, the largest since the 2019 general election.
At a downbeat Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said the new restrictions were a ‘proportionate and responsible’ reaction to a surge in Omicron cases.
But he faced accusations that he had accelerated the move to Plan B restrictions in order to shift the news agenda away from public outrage over claims that No10 staff held a Christmas party last December in defiance of tough lockdown rules.
William Wragg, Tory chairman of the Commons public administration committee, called the move a ‘diversionary tactic’. Other MPs asked how the Government could expect people to abide by Covid rules when No10 staff were accused of recklessly breaking them.
Many Conservative backbenchers were also furious over the likely economic impact of the new curbs, with some even heckling Health Secretary Sajid Javid in the Commons to shouts of ‘resign’.
The public appeared to have already voted with their feet today as pictures showed London stations eerily quiet.
In signs of Cabinet tensions, Sajid Javid this morning dismissed a hint from the PM that mandatory vaccination might be looked at in future, saying that would be ‘ethically wrong’
At a Downing Street press conference last night, 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
The public appeared to have already voted with their feet today as pictures showed London stations eerily quiet
Canada Water Tube station looked less busy than usual after the PM announced restrictions to combat the Omicron strain
The leaked video of No10 staff rehearsing for a press conference that detonated the Christmas party row
In the bombshell video a No 10 aide asks a question about ‘a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night’, to which Allegra Stratton laughed and replied: ‘I went home.’ Downing Stree
Downing Street’s had hoped that the row over the alleged lockdown-busting Christmas party a year ago was fading away.
But the situation escalated dramatically when ITV News was leaked footage from a mock press conference.
It shows the PM’s aides putting his then-press secretary Allegra Stratton through her paces. She had been preparing to start hosting televised briefings for journalists weeks later – although that idea was embarrassingly shelved.
And damagingly one of the questions thrown at her during the session on December 22 referenced the ‘party’ four days earlier.
Ed Oldfield (PM’s special adviser): ‘I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?’
Allegra Stratton: ‘I went home (laughs)… hold on, hold on, erm, err…’
Ed Oldfield: ‘Would the Prime Minister condone having a Christmas party?’
Allegra Stratton: ‘(laughs) What’s the answer?’
Ed Oldfield: ‘I don’t know!’
Downing Street Employee (unidentified): ‘It wasn’t a party… it was cheese and wine.’
Allegra Stratton: ‘Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting.’
Downing Street Employee: ‘No! … was joking!’
Allegra Stratton: ‘(laughs) This is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting… (laughs) and it was not socially distanced. Umm one more and then we’ll… one more. Anybody have any questions today?’
Questioned in a round of interviews this morning over whether it makes sense to instruct staff to work from home but go to parties and other social events, Mr Javid said: ‘I think it is proportionate, actually, when you look at these measures, whether it is the working-from-home guidance, the rules around face masks, the NHS Covid pass, and all of these.
‘It is a real sort of spectrum of response that you can have.
‘It could be guidance, you could have Covid passes clearly in more settings, you could have face masks in more settings, but you have to take a balanced decision that takes into account a number of factors and, of course, the key here is to slow the spread of the new variant, and these measures will help do that.’
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We, of course, keep them under review, but they will have a significant impact in slowing the spread of the variant.’
Economic experts have criticised the restrictions ahead of the crucial pre-Christmas period, warning they could cost the economy £4billion a month and ‘easily’ knock two per cent off the size of the economy.
The hospitality industry said Plan B will kill off festive trade – a period when pubs, nightclubs and restaurants make a third of their annual profits. There are calls for a return to furlough and cash grants for restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars.
Clive Wilson, Chairman of The City Pub Company, said together with rising energy costs and other pressures he expected to price of a pint to rise by around 40p.
‘For restaurants and the late night economy – a third of your profit is made in December. People have described this as a body blow – it’s more than that – it’s taking off the life support machine yet again,’ he said.
‘And I notice that the Chancellor is not providing any further state aid.
‘The current state aid is not enough. Please please give us that enhanced state aid to help us get through those leaner months otherwise a lot of businesses in our sector will run out of cash.’
Economic experts also criticised the move ahead of the crucial pre-Christmas period, warning they could cost the economy £4 billion a month and ‘easily’ knock 2 per cent off the size of the economy.
Lord Sugar tweeted that the Prime Minister must be removed from office, saying: ‘Plan B. Boris is mental. Work from home but you can go to nightclubs and football matches if you are double vax. The man must go. Correct me if I am wrong but I have not heard of any one who had to go to hospital with this new strain let alone die. Small BIZ will collapse’.
Among the latest dramatic events:
- Ms Stratton resigned from her £125,000-a-year job;
- The PM asked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate the party allegations and warned of disciplinary action;
- Scotland Yard said its officers would be taking no action ‘at this stage’;
- Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross suggested the PM would have to quit if his claim that no party was held proved to be untrue;
- Hospitality trade leaders warned that Plan B could deliver a £2billion a month economic hit;
- It emerged that the new Covid rules will not be reviewed until January 5;
- Ministers eased ‘Pingdemic’ rules to allow people to take daily tests rather than self-isolate.
In the Commons last night, Mr Harper said the evidence on the spread of Omicron, which has yet to hospitalise a single person in the UK, simply ‘doesn’t support the introduction of these measures’.
He told MPs: ‘Over the past couple of weeks the Government’s credibility, whether it’s on Paterson or on the Christmas parties, has taken a hit.
‘Why should people at home, listening to the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary, do things that people working in No10 are not prepared to do?’
Fellow Tory Philip Davies criticised the ‘latest in a long line of arbitrary, unnecessary, socialist measures’ and suggested Mr Javid had ‘gone native’.
The Covid clampdown came just hours after the PM issued a rare apology over a leaked video that showed his former press secretary Allegra Stratton and other No10 aides appearing to laugh and joke about the alleged Christmas party during a mock press conference.
The video infuriated relatives of Covid victims who pointed out they had been unable to visit their dying loved ones under lockdown rules in place at the time when No10 staff were partying.
Mr Johnson yesterday repeated his claim that no rules had been broken.
But Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientist, appeared to take a swipe at No 10’s conduct when they stood alongside Mr Johnson last night imploring people to follow the restrictions.
Sir Patrick said: ‘The rules are quite carefully thought through … and they’re there for everybody to stick to.’
Professor Whitty added: ‘We all know that people get very angry, including colleagues and friends, when they feel that it’s unfair.’
At a stormy session of Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Mr Johnson issued a rare apology for the Christmas party video row, saying he was ‘furious’ to see the clip of No 10 aides ‘seeming to make light of lockdown measures’.
He added: ‘I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country, and I apologise for the impression that it gives.’ ‘But I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken, and that is what I have been repeatedly assured.’
No 10 said that it was ‘categorically untrue’ to suggest the move to Plan B had been accelerated to divert attention from the disastrous coverage of alleged rule-breaking by the PM’s staff.
Mr Johnson also insisted that the emerging evidence about the rapid spread of the virus had left him with no choice but to move now: ‘You’ve got to act to protect public health when you’ve got the clear evidence. The best way to ensure we all have a Christmas as close to normal as possible is to get on with Plan B. Irritating though it may be, it is not a lockdown.’
He also said that the best way to avoid a huge wave of the virus next month was for people to follow the new rules and get their booster jabs.
A Whitehall source last night said the introduction of Plan B was designed to slow the spread of the new variant and shift the expected peak next month back to February or March, by which time many more people will have had their booster jabs.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister’s apology ‘raises more questions than answers’ because he had been ‘caught red-handed’.
He added: ‘Millions of people now think the Prime Minister was taking them for fools, that they were lied to.’
Wes Streeting, Labour’s health spokesman, said Labour supported the new restrictions as being ‘in the national interest’, meaning they will almost certainly be approved in the Commons.
But Mr Johnson is certain to face a Tory backlash when MPs vote on the measures on Tuesday while party members have threatened to quit.
Source: Daily Mail UK