The Prime Minister warned at this evening’s (December 8) press conference that it is clear the new strain is “growing much faster” than Delta and cases of Omicron could be doubling every two or three days as he strengthened England’s rules to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Johnson said that guidance to work from home where possible will return from Monday, and mandatory mask wearing will be extended to public places like cinemas and theatres from Friday.
The NHS Covid pass will be mandatory in nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather from “a week’s time”, the Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference, as he described the measures as “proportionate and responsible”.
Earlier in the Commons, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there are 568 cases of Omicron confirmed but that the true figure is estimated to be “probably closer to 10,000”.
What is Plan B?
Until now, ministers had kept most of their Plan B measures in reserve for if Covid-19 cases rose so high that they placed the NHS under unsustainable pressure.
But with concerns mounting, the Government has brought back guidance to work from home, alongside face masks in most indoor venues, including theatres and cinemas.
Exceptions to wearing masks include when eating, drinking, exercising or singing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
Mandatory vaccine passports are being brought back for larger events and nightclubs, where people must prove they are double-jabbed.
Venues include those indoors that are unseated with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue hosting more than 10,000 people.
A negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient proof, with all measures coming into force in seven days’ time, Mr Johnson said.
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.
How will England’s Plan B differ from the rest of the UK?
Each of the four nations’ handling of the pandemic is managed by their own leaders.
In Scotland, vaccine passports are already in force and have been since October, with people who are attending nightclubs, indoor events (unseated) with 500 or more people, outdoor events (unseated) with 4,000 or more people and any event with 10,000 or more to show they are double vaccinated before entering.
Since December 6, a negative PCR test taken within 24 hours of entry to a venue or a negative lateral flow test have also been accepted as part of the passes. Scotland’s Covid passes are called the NHS Scotland COVID Status app.
In Wales, vaccine passports are in force in cinemas, theatres, concert halls as well as nightclubs and large events.
They are also needed for unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people in the audience, outdoor or indoor unseated venues with a capacity over 4,000 and any event with more than 10,000 people.
The passes can be downloaded by people who are double vaccinated or have tested negatively within 48 hours of entering the venue.
Similarly to England, Wales uses the NHS Covid Pass.