Britain set to implement Covid 'Plan B' to curb Omicron spread

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had vowed to navigate the winter without resorting to a fourth Covid-19 lockdown



Reuters file
Reuters file

By Reuters

Published: Wed 8 Dec 2021, 9:50 PM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson looked set to introduce tougher Covid-19 measures for England on Wednesday, including asking people to work from home, in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Johnson, facing fierce criticism after a video appeared to show that his staff had held a party in Downing Street last year when such festivities were banned, said Omicron was spreading much faster than any other variant.

“The prime minister will hold a Covid press conference at 6pm (1800 GMT),” a spokesperson for Johnson’s office said.

Sterling fell and investors pared back their bets on a Bank of England interest rate hike next week ahead of an expected announcement that large venues could also require people to show Covid passports as part of a Plan B.

Johnson had vowed to navigate the winter without resorting to a fourth Covid-19 lockdown, but had kept a so-called Plan B in reserve. Part of those measures such as reintroducing masks on public transport and shops have already been brought in.

Any new measures raise the prospect of another blow to Britain’s economic recovery from its historic slump in 2020.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own Covid restrictions and had already set tougher rules.

Britain has recorded a total death toll of more than 145,000 during the pandemic.

A fast start to the vaccine programme has since helped to contain the impact, and in recent months cases have held steady at around 43,000 daily infections and 135 deaths after Johnson lifted most restrictions in England.

Britain has discovered 568 confirmed cases of Omicron.

While some doctors and scientists had called for tougher measures, the government had been expected to wait to receive more data on the variant before changing the rules.

Expectations of tougher rules in the run up to Christmas caused anger in the hospitality sector and it is likely to spread alarm in cities where restaurants, cafes, shops and transport systems have been repeatedly hit by workers staying at home.

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While many businesses adapted well to working from home, sectors such as hospitality, entertainment and travel have been hit by huge losses. Unlike previous lockdowns, a furlough job support scheme is no longer available.

A poll from Savanta ComRes also suggested some people may be less willing to follow new restrictions following the revelations around the Downing Street party.

The leaked footage showed senior staff laughing and joking over how to explain a gathering in Downing Street during a Christmas Covid-19 lockdown last year. Johnson apologised on Wednesday.


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