What Covid Plan B means for you: work from home, vaccine passports and extended mask mandate

In a bid to stop a rapid increase in hospitalisations from the omicron variant, Boris Johnson announced the tightening of Covid restrictions across the country on Dec 8.

People were asked to work from home if possible from Dec 13, with vaccine passports are now required in nightclubs and for football matches as of Dec 15.

Face masks are once again compulsory in most indoor venues, but not in pubs, bars or restaurants.

The Government’s Covid-19 winter plan, first published in mid-September, made clear that ministers would move to this Plan B if the NHS was “likely to come under unsustainable pressure”.

The Prime Minister came to his decision following meetings with officials, scientific advisers and his Cabinet at No 10 after cases in South Africa, where omicron was first detected, doubled in a week.

He said: “We know the remorseless logic of exponential growth could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations, and therefore sadly in deaths. And that is why it is now the proportionate and responsible thing to move to Plan B in England.” 

Any review of the restrictions will happen “no later” than early January “and possibly before”.

The news was welcomed by experts including the Royal Society for Public Health, which said moving to Plan B would “slow down the spread of disease and buy us time to roll out the boosters”.

Timeline of restrictions

However, some councils sounded the alarm, with one in London saying it would be “a hammer blow” to traders who had fought so hard to stay in business during the lockdowns over the past two years.

There was also concern among Tory MPs in the Commons, who shouted “What a load of old tripe!” and “Rubbish!”, as Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said that the restrictions were not what the Government wanted to introduce.

What are the new rules in Wales?

The Welsh Government also announced the return of tougher Covid restrictions after Christmas, with social distancing being reimplemented from Dec 27, as well as the closure of all nightclubs in the country.

An additional £60 million will be available to support businesses affected by the new measures.

Until Dec 27, the Welsh Government has advised everyone to take five steps to stay safe, including; washing hands and wearing face coverings; getting vaccinated; taking lateral flows before meeting people; and, where possible, meeting people outdoors and leaving gaps between socialising.

Face masks

The rule on reintroducing face masks comes ahead of the Christmas shopping rush

Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Face coverings are now required in most public indoor venues, such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship in England.

They were first made compulsory in shops and on public transport in England in an effort to slow the spread of omicron on Nov 30.

However, there are exemptions where it is not practical to wear one, such as when people are eating, drinking, exercising or singing.

“For that reason, face masks will not be required in hospitality settings,” No 10 said, while churchgoers will not have to wear masks to sing carols this Christmas.

The new requirement will be a significant test for police forces, which are already overstretched in the traditionally busy run-up to Christmas.

Officers can fine rule breakers £200 each, reduced to £100 if paid within 14 days. That penalty doubles for each subsequent offence, with no discount for quick payment, up to a maximum of £6,400.

Asst Chief Constable Owen Weatherill, the strategic lead at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said in November that officers would engage with people not wearing face coverings and encourage them to do so.

Face masks were required to be worn by customers in England until July 19 in pubs, bars and restaurants when they were not seated.

Vaccine passports

From 6am on December 15, people will have to demonstrate their Covid status to get into any venues where large crowds gather.

Credit: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Anyone going to “nightclubs and settings where large crowds gather” will now have to show proof that they have been double vaccinated against the coronavirus.

As of Dec 15, people have been required to demonstrate their Covid status to get into any venues where large crowds gather.

This includes unseated indoor events with 500 or more attendees, unseated outdoor events with 4,000 or more people and any event with 10,000 or more people present.

Anyone going to these venues have to demonstrate proof of having received two vaccines on the NHS Covid App. Mr Johnson said this would be kept “under review” and it was later made clear that the booster jab would be included as part of the Covid pass once more adults in the UK had been offered it.

Proof of a recent lateral flow will also be accepted for the unvaccinated, Mr Johnson said after he had “taken clinical advice since the emergence of omicron”.

The Prime Minister gave companies one week’s notice to adapt to the vaccine passport requirement. He said he wanted to ensure that he was “helping to keep these events and venues open at full capacity, while giving everyone who attends them confidence that those around them have done the responsible thing to minimise risk to others”.

Hours after Mr Johnson announced the introduction of vaccine passports, the NHS Covid Pass was inaccessible to users owing to technical issues.

When the rules were announced by Mr Javid in the Commons, William Wragg, a Tory MP, was heard shouting “resign”. 

Greg Clark, a former Cabinet minister, added that he thought Mr Javid had “reversed his position and jumped the gun”.

Work from home

The rule on working from home will come into effect on December 13

Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

People have been asked to work from home “if they can” since Dec 13 in a bid to slow the spread of omicron in workplaces.

Employers were “encouraged… to discuss working arrangements with their employees”, Mr Johnson said, as this requirement was guidance only and not a legal requirement.

He said: “Go to work if you must, but work from home if you can. And I know this will be hard for many people, but by reducing your contacts in the workplace you will help slow transmission.”

The return of working from home was condemned by Cllr Rachael Robathan, the leader of the City of Westminster Council, who feared for shops and firms that relied on office workers to stay open.

She said: “We are deeply concerned at the impact this will have on the people and businesses of Westminster. Working from home is going to prove a hammer blow to those traders who fought their way through the last lockdown, some of them only narrowly surviving closure.”

The decision came just days after Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, said that people should work from home until January.

Self-isolation

Anyone found to have been in contact with someone who has contracted the omicron variant will be able return to the community after a negative lateral flow test.

The announcement was a crumb of good news given that the current rules, first introduced at the end of last month, said that contacts of someone with omicron would have to isolate for 10 days at home.

Testing was a “vital tool in controlling the spread given the likely increased transmissibility of omicron”.

Mr Johnson said: “As omicron spreads in the community, we will also introduce daily tests for contacts instead of isolation, so we keep people safe while minimising the disruption to daily life.”

Schools

The National Education Union urged ministers to step up self-isolation rules for children

Credit: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

School nativity plays should go ahead and pupils should not be taken out of classes, Mr Johnson said despite claims that some schools had close earlier for the Christmas holidays.

Mr Johnson said: “We do not want kids to be taken out of school before the end of term, not that there is a very long time to go now. We do not want nativity plays to be cancelled. 

“We think that it is OK currently, on what we can see, to keep going with Christmas parties. But everybody should exercise due caution. Have ventilation, wash your hands, get a test before you go, give everybody at the party confidence they are going to be meeting someone who is not contagious.”

That came as the UK’s largest teacher union demanded a return of bubbles and face masks in the classroom as it unveiled its own Plan B for schools.

The National Education Union urged ministers to step up self-isolation rules for children as well as reintroduce one-way systems and staggered break times to reduce transmission.

This article is being kept updated with the latest news and Government guidance daily.

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