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What could Plan B entail?

No10 is expected to announce a suite of new measures to stem the spread of Omicron today. 

The curbs that could be introduced are: 

— Compulsory face masks extended to pubs and restaurants 

— Vaccine passports for large events

— Advice to work from home where possible

— Isolation of all contacts of Covid cases

These are the measures that are already in place: 

— Compulsory masks in shops and on public transport

— Pre-flight departure tests for all UK arrivals

— PCR test on or before Day 2 for vaccinated arrivals

— 10-day isolation for unvaccinated arrivals

— Day 2 and Day 8 PCR tests for unvaccinated arrivals 

— Return of Red List and hotel quarantine for arrivals from countries on list  

— Booster vaccine campaign expanded to all adults, dosing gap shortened to three months 

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No10 hit the panic button today with claims that ‘Plan B’ could be triggered almost immediately amid growing fears about the Omicron strain.

Boris Johnson is on the verge of bowing to mounting alarm about the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed by bringing in tougher restrictions, likely to include a blanket order to work from home where possible, more mask-wearing and Covid passports. A meeting of the core ‘Covid O’ Cabinet committee is set for later to sign off the details. 

But the apparent move will spark accusations Mr Johnson is deploying a ‘dead cat’ tactic – making a big newsworthy announcement in order to distract attention from another crisis. There had been expectations curbs would be ramped up before Christmas, but sources had been playing down the prospects it would be this week.  

Under the winter plan set out in the autumn, Plan B would include vaccine passports, advice to work from home — rather than a mandate — and compulsory masks indoors. Face coverings were already reimposed on shops and public transport last week but could be extended to pubs, restaurants, cinemas and other indoor amenities as part of the plan. 

But there are reports that the new raft of measures will also including isolating all contacts of positive Covid cases. 

There is growing pressure on the Government to tighten restrictions after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 437 yesterday, with the highly evolved variant now in every country in the UK and almost every region of England. 

Experts warn thousands of cases are flying under the radar because not all samples are analysed for variants and Omicron is estimated to be doubling every two or three days — much faster than when Delta exploded on the scene.

‘Professor Lockdown‘ Neil Ferguson, a key Government scientist whose moedlling bounced No10 into the initial shutdown last spring, today admitted that another nationwide lockdown could be on the cards to tackle Omicron if it threatens to overwhelm the NHS. 

Professor Ferguson said light measures like WFH ‘wouldn’t stop it but it could slow it down’ and buy the country precious time, extending the doubling time to five or six days. ‘That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it actually is potentially a lot in terms of allowing us to characterise this virus better and boost population immunity,’ he added. 

The Imperial College London scientist said that while Omicron was concerning, it is still unclear what impact it will have on severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths. The first lab study of the super-variant in South Africa last night found that people given two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine produce forty times less antibodies when exposed to Omicron.

Professor Ferguson said the finding suggests Omicron will cut the effectiveness of current vaccines on mild disease in half, but he said they should still hold up against severe illness. But experts tell MailOnline that even if the new strain is milder, if it can infect significantly more people than Delta then it will cause bigger surges in hospital admissions than its predecessor.

It comes after a bombshell video emerged of No10 aides joking about their ‘illegal’ Christmas party – with Sajid Javid cancelling interviews this morning and Tory MPs warning Mr Johnson must come clean at PMQs this lunchtime. 

The Health Secretary was brutally empty-chaired by broadcasters after pulling out of appearances following the emergence of the footage showing the PM’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton giggling about the lockdown-busting gathering last year.

As bereaved families branded the revelations a ‘bullet to the chest’, Scotland Yard is set to probe the exchanges from a rehearsal for a media briefing, leaked to ITV News.  

As chaos threatened to engulf the government today:  

  • The Prime Minister has warned that the Omicron variant appears to be ‘more transmissible’ than previous strains and is spreading quickly;
  • Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, whose data were instrumental to the UK going into lockdown in March 2020, says a new one in January cannot be ruled out; 
  • Ex-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of throwing a ‘drinks and canapes’ event in his former department while London was under Tier 2 restrictions on December 10 last year;
Boris Johnson (pictured leaving 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons today) is on the verge of bowing to mounting alarm about the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed by bringing in tougher restrictions, likely to include a blanket order to work from home where possible, more mask-wearing and Covid passports

Boris Johnson (pictured leaving 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons today) is on the verge of bowing to mounting alarm about the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed by bringing in tougher restrictions, likely to include a blanket order to work from home where possible, more mask-wearing and Covid passports

Boris Johnson (pictured leaving 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons today) is on the verge of bowing to mounting alarm about the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed by bringing in tougher restrictions, likely to include a blanket order to work from home where possible, more mask-wearing and Covid passports

There are growing concerns about festive freedoms after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 437 yesterday

There are growing concerns about festive freedoms after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 437 yesterday

There are growing concerns about festive freedoms after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 437 yesterday

In total, there are 46,000 Covid cases on average each day in the UK and data from the Covid Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) suggests the new strain is already behind around one in 66 of them, or 1.4 per cent

In total, there are 46,000 Covid cases on average each day in the UK and data from the Covid Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) suggests the new strain is already behind around one in 66 of them, or 1.4 per cent

In total, there are 46,000 Covid cases on average each day in the UK and data from the Covid Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) suggests the new strain is already behind around one in 66 of them, or 1.4 per cent

Infections of the highly evolved variant are doubling every two or three days. The above graph shows how the number of daily cases of Omicron could breach the 100,000 barrier before New Year's Day, if that pace continues

Infections of the highly evolved variant are doubling every two or three days. The above graph shows how the number of daily cases of Omicron could breach the 100,000 barrier before New Year's Day, if that pace continues

Infections of the highly evolved variant are doubling every two or three days. The above graph shows how the number of daily cases of Omicron could breach the 100,000 barrier before New Year’s Day, if that pace continues

BBC Breakfast today decided to 'empty chair' Sajid Javid for pulling out of national interviews in the wake of the Downing Street party video

BBC Breakfast today decided to 'empty chair' Sajid Javid for pulling out of national interviews in the wake of the Downing Street party video

BBC Breakfast today decided to ’empty chair’ Sajid Javid for pulling out of national interviews in the wake of the Downing Street party video

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

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

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

The clip, discovered by ITV news shows Allegra Stratton, then the PM's press secretary, and Ed Oldfield, No10's head of digital, rehearsing a question and answer session in the No9 briefing room.

The clip, discovered by ITV news shows Allegra Stratton, then the PM's press secretary, and Ed Oldfield, No10's head of digital, rehearsing a question and answer session in the No9 briefing room.

The clip, discovered by ITV news shows Allegra Stratton, then the PM’s press secretary, and Ed Oldfield, No10’s head of digital, rehearsing a question and answer session in the No9 briefing room.

The damning role-play

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.’

(Everyone laughs)

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?’

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Attorney General Suella Braverman was seen going into the building this morning, although it is not clear whether her visit is related. 

Mr Javid also entered, ignoring questions about why he ducked interviews.

Conservative MPs have been turning on the premier, with demands for him to provide an ‘explanation’ and even warnings that misleading parliament on what happened will be a ‘resigning matter’. Baroness Warsi, a former Cabinet minister turned critic, said ‘every minister, parliamentarian and staffer’ at the alleged party ‘must resign now’. 

One government source told MailOnline that the situation was an ‘absolute joke’. ‘A friend said to me ”you look like a bunch of c***s”. It was hard to argue.’ 

BBC Breakfast took the extraordinary step of empty-chairing Mr Javid this morning as vaccines minister Maggie Throup also pulled out of her planned round of regional television interviews. On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, host Susanna Reid swiped that the government was ‘gaslighting’ by pretending there is not any need to answer questions.  

The footage of Ms Stratton was filmed on December 22 last year – four days after the alleged ‘boozy’ party and when London was under strict Tier 3 coronavirus curbs. The revelation follows a week of tortured denials from No 10 that there was a ‘party’ – even though dozens of staff allegedly exchanged ‘secret Santa’ gifts and drank past midnight at an event said to have included party games.

It came as new plans for Britons to work from home and for offices to be closed are being drawn up by the Government to curb a surge in Omicron variant case numbers over the festive period – but Tory MPs admitted the ‘indefensible’ and ‘catastrophic’ video could mean the public will resist or ignore more restrictions because of a lack of ‘moral authority’ in No 10.

Some backbenchers have even suggested that Boris Johnson’s could be forced to resign unless he ‘holds his hands up’ because of the video, which calls into question his insistence that all the rules had been followed at the time.

One said of Mr Johnson’s leadership: ‘I’m tired of it. He has to go. Clean sweep. It’s unsustainable’. Another said: ‘It confirms my suspicion of the sheer arrogance and hypocrisy of those orchestrating lockdown measures.’

Former minister Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford, demanded an apology. ‘I am fuming! My constituents have every right to be angry,’ she told Kent Online.

‘Their memories of lost loved ones are traumatised knowing that they died alone, first and last Christmases passed by, and many spent what is usually a special day by themselves.

‘I am not even going to begin to justify or defend a party in Downing Street. We all deserve a fulsome explanation and apology and swiftly.’ Conservative Sir Roger Gale said today that the situation bore ‘all the hallmarks of another ‘Barnard Castle’ moment’ – a reference to the Prime Minister’s former aide driving 260 miles during strict lockdown conditions last year.

Professor Neil Ferguson warns a full lockdown might be needed to stop Omicron overwhelming NHS 

‘Professor Lockdown‘ Neil Ferguson today admitted that another nationwide shutdown could be on the cards to tackle Omicron as he warned the super variant will be dominant before Christmas.

The Government scientist, whose modelling bounced No10 into the original lockdown last spring, said the return of stay-at-home orders ‘certainly might be possible’ if the mutant strain threatens to overwhelm the NHS

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘There is a rationale, just epidemiologically, to try and slow this down, to buy us more time principally to get boosters into people’s arms because we do think people who are boosted will have the best level of protection possible, but also to buy us more time to really better characterise the threat.’

Asked outright if a lockdown could be reimposed, he said: ‘Clearly if the consensus is it’s highly likely that the NHS is overwhelmed then it will be for the Government to decide what to do about that but it’s a difficult situation to be in of course. It certainly might be possible at the current time.’ 

It is unclear how the British public would react to social restrictions over Christmas after fresh allegations surfaced this week that Boris Johnson held a rule-breaking lockdown party in Downing Street last December, when millions of Britons were unable to visit loved ones.

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He said: ‘This is like something out of The Thick Of It. If you wrote it, people wouldn’t believe it.  Boris Johnson has always been his own man and done his own thing in his own way. I think he has a certain amount of explaining to do. This is no laughing matter. I want PM to come to the dispatch box and say there either was a party or wasn’t. There has to be an explanation by lunchtime today’.

Even Ant and Dec got in on the act last night, mocking Boris Johnson over the Downing Street Christmas party on I’m a Celebrity 2021 and saying: ‘Evening Prime Minister… for now.’ Police are yet to launch a criminal investigation – but will be reviewing the footage before a decision is taken.  It is understood that a senior officer looking at the matter will now consider the contents of the video in the coming days.

‘We are aware of footage obtained by ITV News relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at a Government building in December 2020’, a Met spokesman said. ‘It is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid-19 regulations, however the footage will form part of our considerations’.  

BBC Radio 4’s Today programme said Mr Javid was scheduled to feature this morning, but cancelled after the footage emerged.

Presenter Nick Robinson said: ‘We were expecting to speak to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid this morning but we were told just a few minutes after that video emerged that no minister would be available to speak on the programme today.’ Mr Javid was also due on outlets such as BBC1, Sky News and Times Radio.

The damning clip, which was leaked to ITV News, shows Ms Stratton and aides joking about cheese and wine and suggesting the ‘fictional’ event was ‘not socially distanced’. Miss Stratton, who is still on the No 10 payroll earning £125,000 a year, was practising for planned TV media briefings, which were later axed.

At the time of the alleged event, on December 18, Christmas parties were outlawed – on pain of £10,000 fines – and many families were even barred from visiting dying loved ones. Mixing indoors with people from other households was banned in the capital.

No 10 was still insisting last night that there had been ‘no Christmas party’ and that coronavirus rules were followed at all times. But ministers were aghast at the crass video, with one privately describing it as ‘appalling’.

Insiders fear the release of the toxic footage could unleash a wave of public anger, similar to the fury over the trip to Barnard Castle by Dominic Cummings at the height of the first lockdown. 

A Downing Street insider acknowledged the video was a ‘disaster’, adding: ‘No 10 aides laugh at their party as thousands cry for their dead.’

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted ‘we do follow the rules on Covid’ as she was questioned about the alleged party at a Chatham House event.

She said: ‘As to alleged events in Number 10, I don’t know the detail of what happened.

‘I know that the Prime Minister’s spokesman answered those questions in detail yesterday and I am sure there will be further discussion of that issue.’

Asked why citizens should trust an administration that did not follow the rules, she added: ‘We do follow the rules on Covid.’

But ‘I’m not aware of the precise circumstances and I know the Prime Minister’s spokesman has addressed that issue’.

One Tory MP told MailOnline that most colleagues were ‘waiting to see what the PM says at PMQs’.

‘He needs to come out today and just be straightforward and say what happened. Not answering won’t work. Maybe they are planning to fire some people.’

The backbencher pointed out that future inquiries will uncover details anyway. ‘If you have done something wrong, go to parliament and explain it. You have much more chance of getting away with it.

‘The cover-up is the thing that gets you. So you have got to be brutally honest.’

‘They won’t be the only people to have an illegal party at that time, but you don’t have an illegal party in No10 do you?’

The MP also suggested that Mr Cummings and his allies might have been involved in leaking the video. ‘It has to be someone senior. Who had them and kept them this long? It does feel like a Cummings operation,’ they said.

Becky Kummer, of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: ‘There are simply no words to describe how upsetting and shameful it is to hear Boris Johnson’s team laughing about breaking the rules they had made, while others followed them and could only say goodbye to their loved ones through a screen. It’s the behaviour of people who think they’re above us.’    

The clip, obtained by ITV news, shows Ms Stratton, then the PM’s press secretary, and Ed Oldfield, No10’s head of digital, rehearsing a question and answer session in the No9 briefing room.

In it Oldfield asks a question about ‘a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night’, to which Ms Stratton laughs and replies: ‘I went home.’ 

When he asks if the Prime Minister would condone such a party, Ms Stratton appears unsure how to respond and asks the room: ‘What’s the answer?’

Ex-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of throwing a 'drinks and canapes' event in his former department while London was under Tier 2 restrictions on December 10 last year. Mr Williamson is said to have given a short speech at the evening event before ministers 'mingled' and knocked back wine. One source described it as 'reckless'

Ex-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of throwing a 'drinks and canapes' event in his former department while London was under Tier 2 restrictions on December 10 last year. Mr Williamson is said to have given a short speech at the evening event before ministers 'mingled' and knocked back wine. One source described it as 'reckless'

Ex-Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of throwing a ‘drinks and canapes’ event in his former department while London was under Tier 2 restrictions on December 10 last year. Mr Williamson is said to have given a short speech at the evening event before ministers ‘mingled’ and knocked back wine. One source described it as ‘reckless’

It is reported that up to two dozen of Mr Williamson's staff attended a 'drinks and canapes' event in the department's Westminster offices (pictured). The DfE did not deny the report by the publication, instead admitting that it 'would have been better' not to have held it while several parts of the country were banned from doing so

It is reported that up to two dozen of Mr Williamson's staff attended a 'drinks and canapes' event in the department's Westminster offices (pictured). The DfE did not deny the report by the publication, instead admitting that it 'would have been better' not to have held it while several parts of the country were banned from doing so

It is reported that up to two dozen of Mr Williamson’s staff attended a ‘drinks and canapes’ event in the department’s Westminster offices (pictured). The DfE did not deny the report by the publication, instead admitting that it ‘would have been better’ not to have held it while several parts of the country were banned from doing so

 

Mr Johnson has not confirmed or denied reports that members of his Downing Street team staged a party on December 18 last year when London was under Tier 3 restrictions. Pictured: Mr Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street on December 15, 2020 to attend weekly cabinet held at the nearby Foreign Office to ensure social distancing

Mr Johnson has not confirmed or denied reports that members of his Downing Street team staged a party on December 18 last year when London was under Tier 3 restrictions. Pictured: Mr Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street on December 15, 2020 to attend weekly cabinet held at the nearby Foreign Office to ensure social distancing

Mr Johnson has not confirmed or denied reports that members of his Downing Street team staged a party on December 18 last year when London was under Tier 3 restrictions. Pictured: Mr Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street on December 15, 2020 to attend weekly cabinet held at the nearby Foreign Office to ensure social distancing

A third voice can be heard saying ‘it wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine’, before Ms Stratton added: ‘It was a business meeting … this fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.’

What is Plan B and will it slow the spread of Omicron? 

What is Plan B?

Ministers have kept most of their Plan B measures in reserve for if Covid cases rise so high that they place the NHS under unsustainable pressure.

They have already introduced mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport in England and, on November 27, promised to review the measures after three weeks.

The remaining restrictions in Plan B include the introduction of mandatory vaccine passports for larger events and nightclubs. These passports would prove people are double-jabbed and can attend the event.

The Government has previously said it will seek to give businesses at least one week’s notice before mandatory vaccine certification is enforced.

Face masks may also be brought in for other settings, such as when moving around restaurants, while the Government has said the plan allows for ‘asking people once again to work from home if they can, for a limited period’.

Will the plan slow the spread of Omicron?

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, whose data was instrumental to the UK going into lockdown in March 2020, said on Wednesday that ‘case numbers of Omicron are doubling at least every three days, maybe even every two days at the moment, so it’s accelerating very fast’.

He said lockdowns are a possibility and cannot be ruled out, but working from home guidance could slow the spread.

‘There is a rationale, just epidemiologically, to try and slow this down, to buy us more time principally to get boosters into people’s arms, because we do think people who are boosted will have the best level of protection possible, but also to buy us more time to really better characterise the threat,’ he said.

He suggested ‘a kind of Plan B Plus with working from home might slow it down’ rather than stopping Omicron, reversing the doubling time to every five or six days.

What does the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) think?

Sage has said Plan B measures will have the greatest effect if brought in in one go.

Of the individual measures, the scientists advising Government believe working from home will have the biggest impact on slowing the spread of the virus.

The React study from Imperial College London showed working from home reduced the chance of catching Covid-19 during earlier stages of the pandemic.

Analyses of risk by occupation also shows a lower risk for those jobs with higher levels of working from home.

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The footage was released after Boris Johnson had earlier refused to answer questions about the gathering, with questions raised over whether it breached social distancing rules in place at the time.

The Metropolitan Police has said it was aware of the footage and is considering an investigation into the alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations in government buildings last December. 

Asked about it on a visit to a London prison yesterday, Mr Johnson would only say that all the rules had been followed at the time. Other ministers have refused to confirm if a party happened or not.

Sir Keir Starmer responded to the footage of Downing St aides joking about the party by saying that Boris Johnson needed to ‘come clean and apologise’.

The Labour leader said: ‘People across the country followed the rules even when that meant being separated from their families, locked down and – tragically for many – unable to say goodbye to their loved ones.

‘They had a right to expect that the government was doing the same.

‘To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful. The Prime Minister now needs to come clean, and apologise. 

‘It cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else.’

In response to the footage, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.’

The leaked footage was shot in the media room at 9 Downing Street, which was refurbished at a cost of £2.6 million in preparation for the televised broadcasts before the plan was ditched. 

Parties were banned under Covid restrictions at the time. Mr Johnson has not confirmed or denied reports that members of his Downing Street team staged a party on December 18 last year when London was under Tier 3 restrictions but he has insisted that no rules were broken.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab reignited the party row yesterday after he said it would have been a clear breach of Covid rules at the time if Mr Johnson’s staff held a party in Number 10 in the run-up to last Christmas. 

The PM yesterday insisted no rules were broken, after the Times reported that staff wore festive jumpers and were asked to bring ‘secret Santa’ gifts.

They were reported to have brought alcohol and food to the event said to have been attended by dozens of colleagues

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman has insisted ‘there was not a party’ but the Prime Minister declined to characterise the event during a visit to a prison in London on Tuesday.

‘What I can tell you is that all the guidelines were observed, continue to be observed,’ he told reporters.

Asked if he investigated personally, Mr Johnson said: ‘I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.’

The spokesman later added that ‘our position has not changed’ following Mr Johnson’s comments.

Last night, several families who lost loved ones over the Christmas period last year vented their fury at the latest developments in shambolic party saga, calling it a ‘betrayal’ of families who followed the rules.

Louisa Backway, whose father died of prostrate cancer after being unable to spend his last Christmas with his children and grandchildren, said she and her family are ‘furious’ after watching the video.

‘To know now that I sacrificed the last time that my dad could see his grandchildren, the last time that I could see my dad when he was well and himself, I can’t get that time back,’ she told ITV News. 

‘A nest of singing birds’ and a string of green gaffes: Allegra Stratton, Boris’ short-lived press secretary

Allegra Stratton has frequently been the story since she was brought in by Boris Johnson – with a string of gaffes and a description of No10 as ‘a nest of singing birds’.

The former Guardian and BBC journalist became the Prime Minister’s press secretary in October last year, when the idea was to hold daily White House-style televised press conferences.

But the plans were dropped six months later and she was given a consolation role as the PM’s spokesman at the COP environmental summit.

Since then she has regularly raised eyebrows, urging people to join the Green Party and advising against rinsing plates before putting them in the dishwasher.

She was even forced to admit she drove a diesel car because the infrastructure was not in place to switch to an electric vehicle – even though her role was to promote the Government’s green agenda.

In February, Miss Stratton was forced to deny reports of strains with the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie, saying: ‘That’s completely mental. Crazy. I love Carrie and would do anything for her. When we all go out for a drink she is just the best fun imaginable. We are all a nest of singing birds.’

She worked as political correspondent for the Guardian until 2012 when she became political editor of BBC2’s Newsnight.

She was Rishi Sunak’s director of strategic communications from April to October 2020. Her joining the PM’s team caused a bust-up in Downing Street that led to the departure of communications director Lee Cain. 

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Referring to Mr Johsnson, Louisa added: ‘I probably can’t really say what I think about him right now, because I’m just, I’m just so angry, so angry. And I’m sure many people are.’ 

Trisha Greenhalgh, a Professor in Primary Care, took to social media to recall her heartbreak as her mother died on Christmas without any family by her side.

Addressing her tweet to Allegra Stratton, the Oxford lecturer wrote: ‘On the day you partied, my mother called me, breathless and feverish. I didn’t visit. On the day you joked, she was admitted to hospital. I didn’t visit.

‘As you celebrated Christmas, she died without family by her side. I promise you, it wasn’t funny.’ 

Ministers are yet to explain how the alleged bash complied with the rules in place at the time, despite coming under pressure since an initial report in the Daily Mirror.

The newspaper said two events took place in No 10 in the run-up to the festive season last year, including Mr Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November’s lockdown. 

While Mr Johnson has stuck by his explanation that rules were obeyed, several Cabinet colleagues have swerved questions about the party.  

Health Secretary Sajid Javid faced questions on the issue as he faced his new Labour shadow, Wes Streeting, the MP for Ilford North, in the Commons yesterday.

‘Residents in Ilford are this week being prosecuted for holding an indoor gathering of two or more people on December 18, 2020, and rightly so,’ Mr Streeting said.

‘Isn’t it time that the Government comes clean about the event in Downing Street on that same day, admit they broken the rules and apologise? Or does the Secretary of State believe, as the PM appears to, that it is one for rule and another for everyone else?’

Mr Javid replied only to say: ‘In terms of rules, of course they should apply to everyone, regardless of who they are.’

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse had earlier insisted he had been ‘reassured that all of the regulations were complied with’ as he was grilled over the Downing Street Christmas party row. 

Mr Malthouse clashed with BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter Mishal Husain during a fiery interview as she asked him to make sense of the Government’s position. 

The Tory frontbencher said he is ‘not an investigator’ but he had ‘asked the question was all the regulations compiled with’ and he had been ‘reassured they were’. 

It came as Downing Street said it intends to hold a Christmas party for staff this year.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: ‘We haven’t confirmed any dates at the moment. I think there is an intention to have a Christmas party this year.’

Boris Johnson has insisted that Christmas parties should go ahead this month despite the return of some Covid restrictions to stop the spread of the Omicron variant.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab reignited the party row after he said it would have been a clear breach of Covid rules at the time if Mr Johnson’s staff held a party in Number 10 in the run-up to last Christmas.  

Health Secretary Mr Javid faced questions on the issue as he faced his new shadow Wes Streeting, the MP for Ilford North, in the Commons this afternoon to update MPs about the new Omicron variant.

Health Secretary Mr Javid faced questions on the issue as he faced his new shadow Wes Streeting, the MP for Ilford North, in the Commons this afternoon to update MPs about the new Omicron variant.

Health Secretary Mr Javid faced questions on the issue as he faced his new shadow Wes Streeting, the MP for Ilford North, in the Commons this afternoon to update MPs about the new Omicron variant.

What were the rules on December 18 last year?

With just days to go until Christmas 2020, Covid restrictions were ramped up as the situation on infections and hospitalisations ‘deteriorated’. 

London, and Downing St at its centre, were moved into a Tier 3 set of restrictions to fight the ‘exponentially increasing’ Covid case rate.

The following rules were put into force on December 17 for London following a review of tiers:

– No mixing of households indoors, or most outdoor places, apart from support bubbles;

– A maximum of six people in some outdoor public spaces (e.g. parks, public gardens);

– Events should not take place;

– People should avoid travelling outside their area, other than where necessary such as for work or education. Reduce the number of journeys where possible; 

– Hospitality is closed, with the exception of sales by takeaway, drive-through or delivery;

– Retail, indoor leisure and personal care are allowed to remain open.

There was to be the saving grace of a five-day relaxation period over Christmas, but this was scrapped just days later after the situation continued to deteriorate.

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Mr Raab, who is also the Justice Secretary, said he did not know the truth of the reports based on ‘unsubstantiated claims all on the basis of anonymous sources’, but if they turned out to be correct, then there would have been a breach.

He said that ‘if there was a formal party held, of course that is something that is clearly contrary to the guidance’.

Ms Husain asked Mr Malthouse this morning if a hypothetical gathering at the BBC last Christmas involving ‘several dozen of us, drinks, nibbles, party games’ would have been within the rules.

He replied: ‘Well, you are asking me a hypothetical question. I would have said to you you have to abide by the regulations.’

Mr Malthouse said he asked Number 10 ahead of his broadcast round of interviews this morning ‘whether regulations were complied with’ and ‘I was reassured that all of the regulations were complied with’.

Last week The Daily Mirror reported that two events took place in Number 10 last year in the run-up to the festive season.

The first was said to have been a leaving do for a senior aide held in November, when the country was in a second national lockdown, apparently attended by Mr Johnson who gave a speech.

The second was reportedly a staff party in December where, according to multiple reports, party games were played, food and drink were served, and the revelries went on past midnight.

The rules in place in the capital at the time explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it was ‘a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted’.

Professor Neil Ferguson warns a full lockdown might be needed to stop Omicron overwhelming NHS as he says super-variant may have been seeded at COP26 summit in Glasgow

‘Professor Lockdown‘ Neil Ferguson today admitted that another nationwide shutdown could be on the cards to tackle Omicron as he warned the super variant will be dominant before Christmas.

The Government scientist, whose modelling bounced No10 into the original lockdown last spring, said the return of stay-at-home orders ‘certainly might be possible’ if the mutant strain threatens to overwhelm the NHS

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘There is a rationale, just epidemiologically, to try and slow this down, to buy us more time principally to get boosters into people’s arms because we do think people who are boosted will have the best level of protection possible, but also to buy us more time to really better characterise the threat.’

Asked outright if a lockdown could be reimposed, he said: ‘Clearly if the consensus is it’s highly likely that the NHS is overwhelmed then it will be for the Government to decide what to do about that but it’s a difficult situation to be in of course. It certainly might be possible at the current time.’ 

It is unclear how the British public would react to social restrictions over Christmas after fresh allegations surfaced this week that Boris Johnson held a rule-breaking lockdown party in Downing Street last December, when millions of Britons were unable to visit loved ones.

According to reports, No10 is already drawing up new plans for Britons to work from home and for offices to be closed in an attempt to avoid bringing in harsher Christmas curbs. Mr Johnson and his chief scientists are said to have given a ‘sobering’ Omicron briefing to Cabinet yesterday in an effort to soften up ministers for tougher curbs.

Both Communities Secretary Michael Gove and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries are believed to back the introduction of controversial vaccine passports, but a rift is beginning to emerge with other senior ministers staunchly opposed. Senior Tories last night warned the PM he would face a major backlash if he attempted to impose new restrictions to control Omicron, which has yet to put a single person in the UK in hospital.

Downing Street said today that ‘no decisions have been made’ on Plan B. But there is growing pressure after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 437 yesterday, with the highly evolved variant now in every country in the UK and almost every region of England.

But experts warn thousands of cases are flying under the radar because not all samples are analysed for variants and Omicron is estimated to be doubling every two or three days — much faster than when Delta exploded on the scene.  

Ministers are due to review the current suite of anti-Omicron measures — compulsory masks and stricter travel testing protocols — on December 18, which has raised fears that Britons could be stung by last-minute restrictions just days before Christmas. 

Professor Ferguson said light measures like WFH ‘wouldn’t stop it but it could slow it down’ and buy the country precious time, extending the doubling time to five or six days. ‘That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it actually is potentially a lot in terms of allowing us to characterise this virus better and boost population immunity,’ he added. 

The Imperial College London scientist said that while Omicron was concerning, it is still unclear what impact it will have on severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths. The first lab study of the super-variant in South Africa last night found that people given two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine produce forty times less antibodies when exposed to Omicron.

Professor Ferguson said the finding suggests Omicron will cut the effectiveness of current vaccines on mild disease in half, but he said they should still hold up against severe illness. But experts tell MailOnline that even if the new strain is milder, if it can infect significantly more people than Delta then it will cause bigger surges in hospital admissions than its predecessor.

Source: Daily Mail UK

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