British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new Covid restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the new Omicron variant, including the return of work from home advice and introducing coronavirus passes in certain settings.
From December 13, everyone across England who can work from home should do it, Johnson said at a televised press conference on Wednesday evening. He acknowledged that “it will be hard for many people” to make the change.
As of Friday, wearing masks will become mandatory once again for most public venues, including theaters, with Covid passes required for entry into nightclubs and large venues from next week. However, face masks will not be necessary while “eating, drinking, exercising or singing,” the prime minister noted.
The Covid pass showing a person’s vaccine status will be required for patrons to enter unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 people.
The NHS Covid pass is available for those who have received two doses but that matter will be kept under review, Johnson said, as the booster program is being rolled out.
The PM said that while it can’t be assumed yet that Omicron is less severe than previous Covid variants, its quick spread to date might result in increasing numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. Therefore, he said, “now it is proportionate and the responsible thing to move to Plan B in England,” while continuing to work closely with the devolved authorities in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
“It is not a lockdown,” Johnson added, noting that the Plan B measures would be further reviewed “no later” than early January and possibly before.
The Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty, told the press briefing that while there is still a lot of uncertainty around the new variant, it presents a different risk to the Delta strain and there’s a “reasonable chance” of some degree of “vaccine escape” by Omicron.
The total number of Omicron cases in the UK amounted to 568 as of Wednesday, including 131 recorded in the last 24 hours.