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

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  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019

Watch: What are the 'Plan B' rules?

Boris Johnson has issued new work-from-home guidance, extended face mask requirements and a strengthened vaccine passport mandate as the Government speeds up plans for tougher measures to counter the omicron variant.

The Telegraph reported on Tuesday that plans were being worked up by government officials and discussed by Cabinet ministers, with a decision due next week. However, the announcement was suddenly pulled forward overnight.

The regulations enforcing the changes - which will apply in England - are expected to be tabled in Parliament on Thursday.

The rules change amounts to the Government bringing in the “Plan B” measures set out in the previously published autumn and winter Covid plan.

It also represents the biggest increase in Covid restrictions in England since January, when the country went into full lockdown to stem the spread of Covid as the vaccines were rolled out.

covid plan b restrictions new rules working from home vaccine passports face masks - PETER NICHOLLS /REUTERS
covid plan b restrictions new rules working from home vaccine passports face masks - PETER NICHOLLS /REUTERS

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister warned it is now clear the omicron variant is "growing much faster" than the delta strain and cases could be doubling every two or three days.

"We can't yet assume that Omicron is less severe than previous variants," he said. "So while the picture may get better, and I sincerely hope that it will, we know that the remorseless logic of exponential growth could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations and therefore, sadly, in deaths.

"That's why it is now the proportionate and the responsible thing to move to Plan B in England while continuing to work closely with our colleagues in the devolved administrations, so we slow the spread of the virus, buy ourselves the time to get yet more boosters into arms, especially in the older and more vulnerable people."

The new work-from-home guidance means millions of workers in England are now encouraged to avoid workplaces from Monday where possible.

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

The policy was generally favoured by Cabinet ministers because it has a lesser impact on the economy than social distancing measures, which were in place for the first half of this year and financially crippled the hospitality sector. 

Watch: What is a COVID-19 variant and how do they form?

Expansion of vaccine passports

The Prime Minister also announced the expansion of the use of vaccine passports. All nightclubs, indoor venues with 500 or more attendees, outdoor venues with 4,000 or more attendees and all large settings with more than 10,000 attendees will be required to carry out checks.

The rules will see these venues having to check proof that attendees have received both doses of a Covid vaccine before allowing entry.

A negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient proof, with all measures coming into force in seven days' time, Mr Johnson said.

The Prime Minister also expanded the face mask mandate to include "most public indoor venues", including theatres and cinemas. 

However, the rules are not expected to apply to pubs and restaurants. "There will of course be exemptions where it is not practical, such as when eating, drinking, exercising or singing," he said. 

Mr Johnson nevertheless dismissed the prospect of mandatory vaccinations. "I said right at the beginning of this pandemic... I didn't want us to have a society and a culture where we forced people to get vaccinated," he said. 

"I don't think that's ever been the way we do things in this country."

But he admitted there would need to be "a national conversation" about how to protect the public, particularly those who choose not get vaccinated for any reason.

The Prime Minister also dismissed making changes to the rules that currently require people travelling from red list countries to quarantine in hotels.

He said the red list was something the Government was looking at, but added: "It's been very important in the immediate response to omicron to have very tough border measures to slow the arrival of the variant in this country."

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