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SAGE scientists warn Plan B WON’T solve Omicron crisis in hint ‘Christmas lite’ may be needed


What are the new Covid rules in England?

WFH

The return of work from home guidance. People will be told to work from home in England from Monday if they are able to.

Face mask

Face masks will be made compulsory in most public indoor venues including in cinemas and theatres from this Friday. They will not be required in pubs, restaurants and gyms.

Vaccine passports 

The NHS Covid pass will be compulsory to gain access to nightclubs and other large venues where large crowds gather. 

This will apply to all 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. 

Two vaccine doses will be treated as fully-vaccinated but this will be kept under review because of the booster programme. 

A negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient. 

This requirement will be rolled out in one week’s time to give businesses time to prepare. 

Contact testing 

Contacts of Omicron cases will be told to take daily coronavirus tests instead of having to self-isolate. They will have to quarantine if they test positive.    

SAGE scientists today hinted that tougher coronavirus restrictions could be in the pipeline as they warned the Government’s ‘Plan B’ does not go far enough to stop Omicron.

Boris Johnson activated his Covid contingency plan last night in response to fears the highly-mutated strain may cause a million infections by New Year and trigger 1,000 daily NHS admissions if left to spread unchecked.

The Prime Minister faced fury from Tory MPs over the anti-Omicron measures, which were described as ‘non-sensical’.

Millions of office staff will be urged to work from home from Monday, while masks will be required in theatres and cinemas, and Covid passports are being introduced for nightclubs and large venues. But the PM stressed that office Christmas parties should go ahead, sparking derision from critics.

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of No10’s top scientific advisory group, warned the UK could ‘need much more severe restrictions’. While Plan B will ‘slow the spread’ of the super-strain, the University College London epidemiologist argued the measures are ‘not going to turn around’ the looming wave of cases and hospitalisations.  

Sajid Javid today claimed that the sudden shift to Plan B was ‘proportionate’ and would ‘buy time’ to allow the NHS to dish out millions more booster jabs. 

But the Health Secretary also dangled the threat of even tougher orders being rolled out in the coming weeks, admitting that ministers will keep the current policies under constant review. 

It means Britons could still be stung by last-minute Christmas curbs again after millions were deprived from seeing their loved ones last year when the Alpha variant took off.

SAGE modeller Dr Mike Tildesley hinted at a watered down Christmas this year, claiming that it was ‘very important’ to allow people to be together this year — but in a ‘safe way’. 

Mr Johnson has already hinted that Covid jabs could eventually be compulsory, telling last night’s Downing Street conference that a ‘national conversation’ on the matter is likely to be needed in the future. And while vaccine passports have only been imposed on large scale events at the moment, Mr Johnson suggested they could be rolled out more widely in society. 

The Government is already being lobbied by independent scientists to go harder, with Independent SAGE, a ‘zero Covid’ group of experts, telling ministers to ‘bring in more measures right now… then we may be able to avoid a lockdown’. 

Yesterday Professor Neil Ferguson, one of SAGE’s top modellers, warned a full-blown lockdown might be needed to protect the NHS from Omicron. 

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of No10's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), has warned that even the new raft of measures are 'not going to turn it around'

SAGE modeller Dr Mike Tildesley hinted at a watered down Christmas this year, claiming that it was 'very important' to allow families to be together this year — but in a 'safe way'

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of No10’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), has warned that even the new raft of measures are ‘not going to turn it around’. SAGE modeller Dr Mike Tildesley hinted at a watered down Christmas this year, claiming that it was ‘very important’ to allow families to be together this year — but in a ‘safe way’

Infections of the highly evolved variant are doubling every two or three days. The above graph shows how the number of daily cases of Omicron could breach the 100,000 barrier before New Year's Day, if that pace continues

Infections of the highly evolved variant are doubling every two or three days. The above graph shows how the number of daily cases of Omicron could breach the 100,000 barrier before New Year’s Day, if that pace continues

Britain wakes up to Plan B: PM faces mass Tory revolt over ‘work from home but go to Christmas parties’ message

Boris Johnson is struggling to contain a Tory revolt today amid fury at ‘non-sensical’ new Covid restrictions and his handling of the No10 Christmas party debacle.

The PM dramatically triggered ‘Plan B’ measures to control the rampant Omicron strain at a press conference last night, with fears that infections are now doubling every few days and the NHS could be crippled.

Millions of office staff will be urged to work from home from Monday, while masks will be required in theatres and cinemas, and Covid passports are being introduced for nightclubs and large venues.

But Mr Johnson stressed that office Christmas parties should go ahead, sparking derision from critics. Desperate businesses have complained that the differing restrictions for venues ‘don’t make any sense’.

Dozens of Conservative MPs are now threatening to rebel against the measures when a Commons vote is held next week – although support from Labour means they will still pass.

Backbencher Marcus Fysh said today that the latest curbs are an ‘utter disgrace’, while former chief whip Mark Harper has questioned whether the government has the moral authority to impose the limits given the row over rules being flouted in Downing Street.

There was a further setback when the NHS Covid pass website crashed for several hours last night.

In signs of Cabinet tensions, Sajid Javid this morning dismissed a hint from the PM that mandatory vaccination might be looked at in future, saying that would be ‘ethically wrong’.

And the Health Secretary revealed that he refused to continue with a scheduled round of broadcast interviews yesterday because he was ‘upset’ by the bombshell video of No10 aides giggling about an alleged lockdown-busting festive gathering last year.

In minutes from SAGE’s emergency meeting on Wednesday, the group said it expected Omicron to become the dominant strain ‘in a few weeks’ and trigger a wave of hospitalisations that could rival previous peaks.

The scientists warned that there will be 1,000 admissions per day by the end of this month in England alone and ‘still increasing at that point’, with ‘several times’ that number expected at the highest point.

Not a single one of the UK’s 568 confirmed Omicron cases is thought to have been hospitalised with the virus but it takes several weeks to fall seriously unwell.

SAGE warned: ‘The overall scale of any wave of hospitalisations without interventions is highly uncertain, but the peak could reach several times this level.’

The group said Omicron appears to make vaccines and prior infection ‘significantly’ weaker at stopping transmission, based on South Africa’s trajectory and preliminary data within the UK.

While scientists won’t know its true evasive abilities for several weeks, SAGE warned that even a small reduction in efficacy could trigger high waves of admissions. 

SAGE’s Professor Hayward, an epidemiologist at University College London, told Sky News today that the ‘virus is moving very fast so it’s important that we react to that fast’.

He said a doubling time of every two to three days was ‘very fast’ and ‘you’ll get a very large peak’.

‘And it’s a bit like if you think of a month’s worth of rain falling in a few days, that leads to flooding and it’s a similar type of scenario… we can reduce that by reducing social mixing and allow time to slow the virus down and get vaccine into more people’s arms.’

He said Plan B measures will ‘slow the spread’ but ‘it’s not going to turn it around’, adding: ‘I think you would need much more severe restrictions to turn it around, but I think what the encouraging thing is that we’ve started to see, through some of the laboratory data, is sort of that third dose of vaccine is really providing much better immunity, whereas just with the two doses, it’s not really so good.

‘So this idea of slowing it down… more social distancing, not going to work if you don’t have to, not going on public transport to go to work when you don’t have to, will make a difference.

‘I think it’s very difficult to predict whether that’s going to be enough but I think it’s an essential first move.’

SAGE accepted that there is some evidence Omicron is weaker than Delta, with ICU rates about 60 per cent lower in South African now compared to at the same point in the Delta wave, and ventilator rates down 70 per cent.

But Professor Hayward added that even if the severity of Omicron compared to Delta ‘was reduced to a moderate or to even quite a large extent, if you’ve got many-fold more cases at one time than you would have done, that’s when you’re going to get this flood of cases in the NHS and the NHS doesn’t have a huge amount of capacity’.

He added: ‘For example, if we compare ourselves to Germany, we’ve got less than half the amount of hospital beds so we haven’t got that much to play with.’

Dr Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M) within SAGE, could not be pinned down on whether Christmas parties should go ahead.

He told the Today programme: ‘It’s a really difficult one because I do think we do need to be responsible, of course.

In signs of Cabinet tensions, Sajid Javid this morning dismissed a hint from the PM that mandatory vaccination might be looked at in future, saying that would be 'ethically wrong'

At a Downing Street press conference last night, the PM declared that people should once again work from home where possible, as well as extending use of masks and introducing Covid passports for nightclubs

In signs of Cabinet tensions, Sajid Javid (left) this morning dismissed a hint from the PM that mandatory vaccination might be looked at in future, saying that would be ‘ethically wrong’. At a Downing Street press conference last night, the PM (right) declared that people should once again work from home where possible, as well as extending use of masks and introducing Covid passports for nightclubs

The public appeared to have already voted with their feet today as pictures showed London stations eerily quiet

The public appeared to have already voted with their feet today as pictures showed London stations eerily quiet

Canada Water Tube station looked less busy than usual after the PM announced restrictions to combat the Omicron strain

Canada Water Tube station looked less busy than usual after the PM announced restrictions to combat the Omicron strain 

King's College London scientists estimated that 83,658 people in the UK were catching the virus every day last week, up four per cent on the same time the week before

King’s College London scientists estimated that 83,658 people in the UK were catching the virus every day last week, up four per cent on the same time the week before

This slide was shown at a gloomy Downing Street press conference last night. It indicates the number of PCR tests where one of the three genes it tests for does not show up, an early sign of an Omicron infection. These are doubling every two to three days at present

This slide was shown at a gloomy Downing Street press conference last night. It indicates the number of PCR tests where one of the three genes it tests for does not show up, an early sign of an Omicron infection. These are doubling every two to three days at present

Britain is currently recording around 50,000 cases a day and Professor Whitty warns the country could face a Delta wave on top of the Omicron variant

Britain is currently recording around 50,000 cases a day and Professor Whitty warns the country could face a Delta wave on top of the Omicron variant 

There are currently 757 daily hospital admissions across the UK and 680 in England (England shown above). SAGE members had previously suggested that 1,200 daily admissions would be the trigger point for more restrictions with Delta

Sajid Javid dismisses making Covid jabs compulsory in Britain and says it would be ‘ethically wrong’ after Boris hinted at the move

Sajid Javid today said it would be ‘ethically wrong’ to make Covid vaccinations mandatory for everyone after Boris Johnson hinted the move could be considered in the future.

Speaking to Sky News, the Health Secretary said: ‘No, I’ve got no interest in mandatory vaccinations, apart from in high-risk settings in the NHS and social care, which we’ve already set out that we will legislate for.

‘Other than that, if you talk about universal mandatory vaccination, I think ethically it is wrong but also, at a very practical level, it just wouldn’t work. Getting vaccinated has to be a positive decision.’

Asked whether more restrictions could be coming in January due to social mixing occurring over the Christmas period, he replied: ‘I hope not. The action we’ve taken is very decisive, I think it is going to make a big difference.’

Last night, Mr Johnson suggested jabs could eventually be made compulsory or Covid passes could be rolled out in wider society if a ‘substantial proportion of the population’ remains unvaccinated.

The PM announced the Government is now triggering its Plan B to reimpose work from home guidance, make masks compulsory in more indoor settings and require people to show a Covid pass to go to nightclubs.

The measures are being rolled out across England in a bid to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant of the disease.

But Mr Johnson said a ‘national conversation’ is likely to be needed in the future on how the nation will live with the virus.

He said he does not believe the Government can ‘keep going indefinitely with non-pharmaceutical interventions’ in a hint that jabs could be made compulsory or restrictions could be targeted at the unvaccinated.

‘We do need to be aware of the fact that this variant has not gone away, and so we have to take that into account. But of course we do need to think about people’s mental health and wellbeing as well.

‘We had a really, really tough year last year around Christmas, and I think it’s actually very important that we allow people to be together but to be together in a safe way.’

The Government has claimed Christmas parties should go ahead but many businesses have already pre-empted official advice and cancelled.

Dr Zubaida Haque, a member of Independent SAGE, accused ministers of mixed messaging after telling people to work from home but encouraging festive work nights out. 

The move to Plan B was described as ‘too little, too late’ by Professor Tim Spector, the lead scientist on the ZOE symptom tracking study.

He said: ‘I’m pleased the government has finally taken some action and implemented Plan B. We called for this back in September, but as usual, it’s too little too late, and many will suffer hardships this Christmas as a result. 

‘Unless we see major behavioural change as a result, I expect that COVID rates will climb higher than ever in 2022. ZOE has now introduced a new feature into the app that allows people to share their Omicron experiences and symptoms, so we will be analysing the data in the coming weeks.’

Meanwhile, the Health Secretary said the shift to the coronavirus Plan B is an attempt to ‘buy time’ to avoid the threat of a million Omicron infections by the end of the year.

The Health Secretary defended the sudden shift in the Government’s approach to tackling the virus in England, with an extension of mask-wearing from Friday, a return to working from home on Monday and mandatory Covid passports for large venues from Wednesday.

Mr Javid acknowledged the decisions will have a ‘real impact on our liberties’ but insisted that taking action now is the only way to avoid having to impose tougher measures later.

He faced a barrage of Tory criticism when he announced the measures in the Commons at the same time as Boris Johnson addressed the nation on Wednesday.

Conservative anger has been fuelled by suspicions the new measures were introduced as an attempt to distract from the Prime Minister’s troubles over an alleged staff party in Downing Street during last December’s lockdown.

Mr Javid insisted the measures are necessary to ‘build our collective defences’ through the vaccination programme in the face of the rapidly-spreading Omicron.

With a doubling rate of two-and-a-half to three days, Mr Javid told Sky News: ‘It would mean, at that rate, by the end of this month we could hit about one million infections in the community throughout the UK.

‘We’ve always been clear that should the data change and should it move in the wrong direction and it looked like the NHS might come under unsustainable pressure – remember what that would mean, we wouldn’t be able to get the emergency care not just for Covid but for a car accident, or anything like that – we would act and implement Plan B.

‘I don’t enjoy doing that, no-one does – it is a very difficult thing for many people, asking them to work from home or wearing face masks and things, it is a real impact on our liberties.

‘But I hope that people will understand that by taking decisive action now, we can potentially avoid action later.’

Number of Britons falling ill with Covid rises by just 4% in a week, symptom-tracking app claims

UK Covid infections grew by just four per cent last week, the country’s biggest symptom-tracking study claimed today despite warnings Omicron is quickly outstripping Delta.

King’s College London scientists estimated 83,658 people caught the virus on average each day in the week to December 4, up from 80,483 the seven days prior.

Cases are stagnant or falling in all over-55s thanks to the booster rollout but are rising in all younger age groups, especially children who make up about 30,000 daily cases alone. Broken down within the UK, London, the South East and Wales saw cases rise.

Professor Tim Spector, who leads the ZOE symptom study, said that while it was too early to see Omicron in the data, he warned the NHS could be overwhelmed if cases of the super-strain begin to skyrocket as predicted.

He said: ‘The higher rate of transmission even in the vaccinated could have devastating consequences, and hundreds of people continue to die every week as we head into our second Christmas of this pandemic.’

Professor Spector, who has been calling for more restrictions since September, welcomed Boris Johnson’s Plan B announcement last night but feared it is ‘too little, too late’.

From next week, people in England will be advised to work from home, wear face masks in cinemas and theatres, and use vaccine passports for large events.

SAGE, the Government’s scientific advisory group, has warned that there could have been a million Omicron cases and 1,000 daily hospital admissions by the end of the year without Plan B.

The new regulations will be put to a debate and vote in the Commons next week and with Labour’s support they are certain to be approved, despite the prospect of a large Conservative revolt.

Unease about the measures on the Tory benches will have been amplified by a series of hostile front pages on usually supportive newspapers – The Sun mocked up the Prime Minister as The Grinch, the Daily Mail contrasted the announcement of Plan B with the Downing Street Christmas party, saying ‘One rule for them, new rules for the rest of us’.

The Daily Telegraph, which former aide Dominic Cummings claims Mr Johnson still regards as his ‘real boss’, carried the headline ‘Don’t go to work, but do go to parties’ – a reference to the Prime Minister’s suggestion that festive bashes should still go ahead this year despite the call to stay away from offices.

In a sign of the anger on the Tory benches, MP Marcus Fysh described plans to bring in Covid health certificates as ‘really draconian’ and an ‘utter disgrace’.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that vaccine passports are ‘a massive imposition on our liberties’.

He added: ‘It’s a disgrace that they’re pursuing that, utter disgrace.’

He accused Government scientific advisers and England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty of having a ‘history of over-egging the data and picking data points out that suit their narrative’.

The Plan B measures will be reviewed on January 5, before their expiry date of January 26.

Former minister Steve Baker, a prominent figure in the Covid Recovery Group of Conservatives, said it is ‘vital’ the ‘maximum number of Conservative MPs vote against Plan B’.

Meanwhile, critics claimed the fallout from the events in Downing Street in 2020 have undermined the Government’s message.

Mr Johnson’s former spokeswoman Allegra Stratton quit after footage emerged of her joking about a Christmas party at a mock press conference days after the alleged event, while Cabinet Secretary Simon Case has launched an investigation into what happened on December 18, 2020 in Downing Street.

There have also been a series of further allegations about parties involving senior Tories and officials during the lockdown.

Former minister David Davis questioned ‘how are you going to prosecute people who don’t obey it given the four previous parties?’

He told ITV’s Peston: ‘I think the real issue is on the authority of the Government to enforce a, as it were, new lockdown because people look at this and say why should we? It’s them and us again.’

Data on Wednesday showed there were 568 cases of Omicron confirmed in the UK, but the true figure is estimated to be ‘probably closer to 10,000’, Mr Javid said.

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies from University College London, told Sky News the ‘virus is moving very fast so it’s important that we react to that fast’.

He added: ‘It’s a bit like if you think of a month’s worth of rain falling in a few days, that leads to flooding and it’s a similar type of scenario… we can reduce that by reducing social mixing and allow time to slow the virus down and get vaccine into more people’s arms.’

How will ‘Plan B’ affect me? From mask rules to working from home and Covid passports… Q&A on the new rules and when they come into force at Britain battles rising Omicron infections

Work-from-home guidance will return, Covid health certificates are to become mandatory in large venues and mask rules will be extended to combat the Omicron variant as Boris Johnson announced a move to his Plan B to tackle coronavirus.

The Prime Minister warned it is clear the new strain is ‘growing much faster’ than Delta, and cases of Omicron could be doubling every two or three days .

As he strengthened England’s rules, the PM said Christmas parties and nativities could go ahead, but urged ‘due caution’ for people to get booster jabs as he came under pressure over allegations of a rule-breaching festive bash in No 10 last year.

Mandatory mask wearing will be extended tomorrow to indoor public venues such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship but will not be required in pubs and restaurants, while guidance to work from home where possible returns on Monday.

The NHS Covid pass, which can be obtained by having two vaccines or a negative lateral flow test, will be introduced for entry into nightclubs and other large venues from December 15, as the PM set out his ‘proportionate and responsible’ measures.

But Mr Johnson was forced to insist the public understands the ‘vital importance’ of the measures as he faced questions over how they can accept his rules amid anger over allegations staff broke Covid rules in a party on December 18 last year.

Here, MailOnline looks at what the changes to the rules will mean for you:

VACCINE PASSPORTS

What are vaccine passports?

Mandatory vaccine passports will be introduced for all people aged 18 or over when visiting certain indoor or outdoor settings, which are set out below.

This means adults visiting the likes of nightclubs, large indoor events and large sports events will need this passport to gain access from December 15.

What if you are not fully vaccinated?

Proof of a negative lateral flow test will also be accepted after the Government said it had ‘considered the evidence since the emergence of Omicron’.  

Where will vaccine passports be required?

The policy will be focused on settings where crowds mix and come into close contact. The Government had previously said these would be expected to include:

  • all nightclubs and other venues open after 1am with alcohol, music and dancing;
  • indoor events with 500 or more attendees where those attendees are likely to stand and mix to a significant degree, or move around during the event, such as music venues or large receptions;
  • outdoor, crowded settings with 4,000 or more attendees where those attendees are likely to stand, or move around during the event, such as outdoor festivals;
  • any settings with 10,000 or more attendees, such as large sports and music stadia.

Why are vaccine passports being brought in?

The Government said vaccine passports could allow venues that have been closed for long periods since the pandemic began to remain open, and they are preferable to closing venues entirely or reimposing capacity caps or social distancing.

What settings would be exempt?

The Government previously said settings that would be exempt from the passport requirements would include communal worship, wedding ceremonies and funerals.

Exemptions are also expected to apply to free, unticketed outdoor events in public spaces, such as street parties, protests and mass participation sporting events.

What can you use as a vaccine passport?

The NHS Covid Pass is accessible via the NHS App and NHS.UK and letter via NHS.UK or by calling 119, and is already in use in some settings to check vaccination status.

The Government said hundreds of events and venues have already made voluntary use of the NHS Covid Pass, which currently displays an individual’s Covid status on the basis of vaccine, test or natural immunity status. 

Why are the new measures not coming in immediately?

The Government said introducing the certification from next Wednesday, December 15 will give businesses a week’s notice to help them implement it. 

WORKING FROM HOME 

What is the new guidance be on working from home? 

The Government says that from next Monday (December 13), ‘those who can will be advised to work from home’.

When did the working from home guidance last change?

On July 19, the Government lifted guidance on working from home lifted, but also said employers should ensure a ‘gradual’ return to the workplace over the summer.  

Why is the Government introducing this?

The Government said it wants to reduce the transmission risk inside and outside offices, including by reducing the number of people taking public transport.

It also wants cut down on the number of face to face meetings and social activities, and thereby reduce community and household transmission.

What risks has the Government identified relating to WFH?

The Government has pointed out that many people have inadequate working conditions at home, particularly younger workers, while those living alone or with poorer mental health could suffer due to reduced interactions with colleagues.  

There are also concerns that working from home guidance poses challenges such as hampering the exchange of ideas, stifling creativity and hindering collaboration.

The Government says working from home could make it harder for some businesses to carry out client engagement, and to train new and existing staff.  

FACE MASKS

What changes are happening to face mask rules?

The Government has now expanded the list of settings where face masks will be required. 

It said that from tomorrow, face coverings ‘will become compulsory in most public indoor venues, such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship’. 

Face covering regulations will be laid in Parliament later today when the full list of settings should become clearer.

Will face mask rules be brought in for pubs and restaurants?

No. The Government said there will be exemptions in venues where it is not practical to wear a face mask, such as when you are eating, drinking or exercising. 

For that reason, face masks will not be required in hospitality settings. 

What were the previous recent changes to face mask rules?

From November 30, face masks were made compulsory on public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers in England – but not in pubs and restaurants.

That date marked the first time that face mask restrictions had been brought in for those settings under law since the lockdown officially ended on July 19.

Between those two dates, face masks were mandatory on the Transport for London network but only under the conditions of carriage and not under law.

This meant that until that point it was not illegal to travel on a Tube without a mask – but you could have be asked to leave if you were not wearing one.

Officials said masks were not extended to hospitality on November 30 for practical reasons, because you cannot eat or drink while wearing a mask.

SELF-ISOLATING AND TESTING

Will you have to self-isolate if you are a contact of a confirmed Omicron case?

No. The Government has now said: ‘We intend to introduce daily contact tests for contacts of confirmed positive cases instead of the ten-day self-isolation period.’

They said testing would be a ‘vital tool’ in controlling the spread of Omicron and there was  ‘now demonstrated community transmission’ of the variant.

Should you do more testing?

Yes. The Government has advised that everyone should test using a lateral flow device, ‘particularly before entering a high-risk setting involving people you wouldn’t normally come into contact with, or when visiting a vulnerable person’. 

Are the tests free? 

Yes. Lateral flow devices remain free of charge and can be collected from local pharmacies. You can generate a QR code for collection by clicking here

What were the previous recent changes to self-isolating rules?

From November 30, people identified as contacts of suspected Omicron cases were told they would have to isolate for ten days regardless of their vaccination status.

However, this is now changing and being replaced by a daily testing requirement.

What does self-isolation actually mean?

You must not go to work, school or public places – and work from home if you can. You must not go on public transport or use taxis, or go out to get food and medicine.

You must also not have visitors in your home, including friends and family – except for people providing essential care. And you should not go out to exercise.

The NHS advises people to exercise at home or in your garden, if you have one.

TRAVEL RULES

Are the travel rules also now changing?

No, but they have changed in recent days as detailed below. 

How have the travel rules changed recently?

From 4am on Tuesday, everyone over 12 travelling to the UK needs to have taken a pre-departure test – either lateral flow or PCR – to prove they don’t have Covid-19. This test is mandatory, including for those who are vaccinated.

What if you test positive overseas?

Britons are advised to contact the British embassy or consulate for advice. You will have to abide by the quarantine rules that apply in that country. 

This will involve a period of quarantine in a government-approved hotel or facility at your expense, which could run to several hundred pounds. 

You will need to fund any medical treatment required. You can return home after testing negative, but will probably need to pay for a new flight.

What happens after you arrive home?

Returning travellers must self-isolate at home until they take a day two test. This must be a PCR test, which is booked before you travel and bought privately from a government-approved provider. You must self-isolate until you get a negative result.

What about travel insurance?

Some policies, such as those offered by the Post Office, include coronavirus cover. This will include trip cancellation and curtailment cover; overseas medical and repatriation costs.

What if you want to cancel a foreign trip?

You don’t have a legal right to a refund. But most tour operators and airlines will give you a voucher to re-book at a later date.

What countries are on the red list now?

Ten southern African countries were added to the UK’s travel red list because of Omicron – South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia. Nigeria was added from 4am on Monday.

What are the travel rules for red list countries?

You should not travel to red list countries for holidays. People returning to the UK from a red list country must take a pre-departure test and undergo a hotel quarantine for ten days, with a test at day two or eight. 

Quarantine currently costs £2,285 for a single adult and £1,430 for a second adult.

What happens next?

These are temporary measures introduced to prevent further Omicron cases from entering the UK. They will be examined at the three-week review point on December 20.

HEALTH RATIONALE

Will Plan B slow the spread of Omicron?

Scientists advising the Government have said measures are needed to slow down the pace of Omicron.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, whose data was instrumental to the UK going into lockdown in March 2020, said yesterday that ‘case numbers of Omicron are doubling at least every three days, maybe even every two days at the moment, so it’s accelerating very fast’.

He said lockdowns are a possibility and cannot be ruled out, but working from home guidance could slow the spread.

‘There is a rationale, just epidemiologically, to try and slow this down, to buy us more time principally to get boosters into people’s arms, because we do think people who are boosted will have the best level of protection possible, but also to buy us more time to really better characterise the threat,’ he said.

He suggested ‘a kind of Plan B Plus with working from home might slow it down’ rather than stopping Omicron, reversing the doubling time to every five or six days.

What does the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies think?

Sage has said Plan B measures will have the greatest effect if brought in in one go.

Of the individual measures, the scientists advising Government believe working from home will have the biggest impact on slowing the spread of the virus.

The React study from Imperial College London showed working from home reduced the chance of catching Covid-19 during earlier stages of the pandemic.

Analyses of risk by occupation also shows a lower risk for those jobs with higher levels of working from home.

UK NATIONS 

Each of the four nations’ handling of the pandemic is managed by their own leaders – and here is how Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are different to England.

Scotland 

In Scotland, vaccine passports are already in force and have been since October, with people who are attending nightclubs, indoor events (unseated) with 500 or more people, outdoor events (unseated) with 4,000 or more people and any event with 10,000 or more to show they are double vaccinated before entering.

Since December 6, a negative PCR test taken within 24 hours of entry to a venue or a negative lateral flow test have also been accepted as part of the passes. Scotland’s Covid passes are called the NHS Scotland COVID Status app.

Wales 

In Wales, vaccine passports are in force in cinemas, theatres, concert halls as well as nightclubs and large events.

They are also needed for unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people in the audience, outdoor or indoor unseated venues with a capacity over 4,000 and any event with more than 10,000 people.

The passes can be downloaded by people who are double vaccinated or have tested negatively within 48 hours of entering the venue.

Similarly to England, Wales uses the NHS Covid Pass.

Northern Ireland 

Northern Ireland has followed the same rules as Wales, which have been in place since November 29. Enforcement will be applied from December 13. Residents who can download Covid passes include those who are double vaccinated or have tested negatively within 48 hours of entering the venue.

In Northern Ireland, the pass is called COVIDCert NI Mobile App.

How long will the new rules last in England?

The Government has said that the new rules will not be reviewed until January 5 – and the law imposing them would not run out until January 26. 



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