From Monday, people in England are being asked to work from home again – ‘if you can’ – and masks are compulsory again in most public areas.

This is part of the government’s plan to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.

Anyone going to large venues will need their vaccine passports; at a press conference at number 10, the Prime Minister said “It’s not a lockdown, it’s Plan B.”

Mr Johnson did not specify the mask-wearing rules for people who are forced to go into an office.

The UK Health Security Agency estimates that the number of infections is more than 9,000 though its official figures show 568 confirmed cases.

 

Plan B already in place in other parts of UK

Vaccine passports had already been in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and office staff had also been working from home on advice.

Boris Johnson said Omicron is growing faster than Delta and early studies show cases possibly doubling every 2 to 3 days.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Scotland’s employers to make sure anyone who worked from home in the last lockdowns can do so again till mid-January.

Ministers in Wales also encouraged employers to let people work from home and advised against putting pressure on people to return to the office unless it was imperative.

In Northern Ireland, meanwhile, employers were also urged to support working from home for employees, but did not ask them to impose home-working as a mandate.

 

NHS supports the move

Responding to the announcement of new measures in England at the No 10 press conference, chief executive of the NHS Confederation Matthew Taylor said it is better to be safe than sorry:

“We are relieved the Government has finally listened and hope these precautionary measures have not come too late. No one wants another national lockdown or for patient care to become disrupted again given how hard frontline teams are working.”

Mr Taylor said: “As set out in our #NotTooMuchToMask campaign, curbing the spread is not just a Government responsibility as the public has a vital role to play too. This includes by wearing face coverings, getting vaccinated, keeping indoor spaces ventilated, cleaning their hands regularly and getting tested.”

The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, meanwhile, said it was ‘incredibly  important people follow the rules’ saying “it only works if we all do it.”

The Health Secretary – Sajid Javid – made a statement to MPs at the same time as Mr Johnson’s news conference, saying there will be a debate and vote in the House of Commons next week on the measures.