Last reviewed 9 December 2021

We reported in September that the Government had a Plan B in the event that the NHS was likely to come under unsustainable pressure (see Winter plan for managing Covid).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has now announced that early data on the spread of the Omicron variant has convinced the Government that it is now “proportionate and responsible” to move to Plan B measures in England.

Prof Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, said: “The data here is now clear. Omicron is going up incredibly fast.”

What will this mean?

With effect from Monday 13 December, guidance to work from home wherever this is possible will be reintroduced.

From Friday 10 December, masks must be worn in most public venues, including theatres and cinemas, unless someone is medically exempt. This will not apply in premises where people are eating or exercising.

By Wednesday 15 December, Covid passes will become mandatory for nightclubs, unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 5000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people.

Two doses will be sufficient for a Covid pass, as will a negative lateral flow test but this requirement will be kept under review as the booster programme is rolled out.

The Prime Minister emphasised that daily tests will be introduced instead of isolation to minimise the disruption to daily life. Although he has ruled out mandatory vaccination, Mr Johnson called on everyone to “get their jabs” and crucially to get the booster as soon as it is their turn.

Parliament is expected to vote on Plan B next week. It must be borne in mind that all the above applies to the position in England, as the other UK nations already have their own restrictions in place.

Omicron and vaccines

Mr Johnson said that, as it examines the need for these and any other measures in the light of the rapid spread of the new Covid variant (with cases doubling every three days), it will be guided by four key factors:

  • the efficacy of vaccines

  • the severity of Omicron

  • the speed of its spread

  • the rate of hospitalisations.

“As soon as it becomes clear that boosters are capable of holding the Omicron variant then we will be able to move forward as before,” he concluded.

The full text of the Prime Minister’s statement can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-opening-statement-at-covid-19-press-conference-8-december-2021.