Boris Johnson rushed forward new Covid restrictions amid fears of an exponential rise in the Omicron variant, as his government was engulfed in a crisis of credibility sparked by the Christmas party scandal, reports The Guardian.
Rise in omicron infections
With government experts warning of an estimated 10,000 UK Omicron infections currently, rising to 1m by the end of the month and up to 2,000 hospital admissions a day, Johnson insisted now was the time to act.
But Wednesday night’s announcement about the implementation of plan B measures came amid allegations Johnson’s own staff broke lockdown rules last year.
At a Downing Street press conference, Johnson said people must work from home where possible from Monday and that face masks would be a legal requirement in most public indoor areas such as theatres and cinemas from Friday, with exemptions for eating and drinking in hospitality venues.
There will be a vote in parliament on the restrictions next week, with the government expected to face a substantial rebellion. The health secretary, Sajid Javid, was heckled in the Commons as he announced plan B.
Johnson came under pressure immediately over the decision to bring in new restrictions at a time when No 10 was under fire over a Christmas party when socialising was banned last year.
Vaccine passports available to the double-vaccinated on the NHS app will be necessary for those wanting to attend large, potentially crowded venues such as nightclubs from next week. But Johnson insisted there was no need to cancel Christmas parties or nativity plays, and nightclubs will remain open.
Johnson and his two key advisers also stressed the necessity of boosters to guard against Omicron, despite the vaccine passport scheme only applying to those who have had two jabs for now. New data has shown that three doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are likely to protect against infection with the Omicron variant – but two doses may not.
With anger rising on the Tory backbenches about the move to new restrictions, Johnson appeared to hint during the press conference that he was prepared to bring in harsher limits for the unvaccinated to prevent a rolling cycle of strict measures.
Boris Johnson’s statement
Johnson denied the accusation that the new rules had been hastened to distract from the crisis engulfing him. “The British public … can see the vital importance of the medical information that we are giving and can see the need to take it to heart and to act upon it,” he said.
“Imagine the counterfactual. People say we are somehow making this announcement to coincide with events in politics, well, imagine that this step were to have been delayed because of political events. What would people say then? You have got to act to protect public health when you have clear evidence.”
Asked why there was no mandatory vaccination, Johnson said there was no case for forcing people to get jabs, but argued that the UK would need a national “conversation about the way we deal with this pandemic”.
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Source: The Guardian