A ‘Plan C’ which would see the imposition of even tighter restrictions is already being worked on by officials to tackle the threat of Omicron.
With many businesses reeling from the impact of Plan B measures announced this week, it emerged that further rules could be introduced in the New Year if the variant proves more dangerous than feared.
These include having to ‘check in’ with the NHS Covid app again to go to a pub or restaurant, using face masks in all indoor spaces, and having to show a vaccine passport at even more venues.
The first part of the Government’s Plan B came into force on Thursday with the introduction of compulsory face masks in indoor settings such as theatres, cinemas and churches.
New work-from-home guidance will come into force on Monday, and MPs will vote the next day on the introduction of vaccine passports for nightclubs and large venues.
Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that ministers hope the measures will be enough to ‘slow the spread’ of the Omicron variant while more booster jabs are rolled out.
But – as shops, pubs and restaurants warn of the millions they face losing at their busiest time of year under Plan B measures – officials are already working on a potential ‘Plan C’ package.
Top of the list is the reintroduction of rules requiring hospitality venues to collect the contact details of all customers to help NHS Test and Trace track down those who come into contact with Covid cases.
This would mean the return of compulsory ‘check-ins’, through the NHS app or by providing phone and email contacts in writing.
The looming threat of even tighter restrictions come amid fury at Mr Johnson’s decision to impose Plan B measures yesterday, on the same day that he tried to grapple with the fallout of the Downing Street Christmas party scandal.
He is set to face a ‘war’ with his backbenchers when the measures are voted on next week. They reacted furiously to the planned introduction of vaccine passports next week – and took aim at the ‘conflicting’ guidance on working from home and socialising.
Ringleaders have told MailOnline that it will be the biggest mutiny yet, with at least 60 expected to defy the government whip.
Backbencher Marcus Fysh said on Thursday 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.
The scale of the damage to the Tories from the partying revelations, which followed the sleaze row, has been underlined with a poll showing 63 per cent of voters think the PM should resign.
Labour also had a four-point lead in the Redfield & Wilton poll, the largest since the 2019 general election.
On another tumultuous day in Westminster:
- The PM faced questions over whether he misled an investigation into donations for refurbishments to his Downing Street flat after the Electoral Commission fined the Tories £17,800.
- A probe into alleged lockdown-busting parties in No 10 was widened to include another festive celebration and a reported staff leaving do.
- Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie gave birth to a ‘healthy baby girl’ at a London hospital yesterday morning.
- The UK recorded 50,867 new cases of Covid-19 and a further 148 deaths yesterday.
- Officials are already working on new ‘Plan C’ restrictions, which could include requiring pub and restaurant goers to ‘check in’ with the NHS Covid app again.
- It emerged that more than £30million of taxpayers’ money has been spent to help civil servants to work from home during the pandemic.
- The number of A&E patients waiting more than 12 hours on a trolley for a hospital bed hit a record high.
On Wednesday, Mr Johnson announced a sudden shift in the Government’s approach to tackling coronavirus, with an extension of mask-wearing from Thursday, a return to working from home on Monday and mandatory Covid passports for large venues from Wednesday.
The move provoked a barrage of Tory criticism, fuelled by suspicions the 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.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, a senior member of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, said Mr Johnson must ‘get a grip’ or risk losing the backing of his party.
He warned the PM that if his ‘bad month’ – which also saw fury over Tory sleaze – continued in the New Year, ‘then I think there would be a serious change of mind of giving him the benefit of the doubt’.
The scale of the Tory revolt means Mr Johnson may have to rely on Opposition support if his Plan B measures are to clear the Commons on Tuesday. Labour has said it will back the regulations, while the Liberal Democrats will support working from home but not vaccine passports.
A senior Tory source warned: ‘I think we will get it through with Opposition support, but there will be such a bloodbath within our party when the dissatisfaction sets in.’
Tory MP David Warburton labelled Plan B ‘confused, contradictory, arbitrary and wholly disproportionate’, adding: ‘This insanity needs to end.’ The new measures will not stop colleagues meeting at a pub to work, and officials suggested an exemption on face-covering rules would allow people to remove their masks in shops or cinemas to sing.
Tory Greg Smith said: ‘Go to the pub, but don’t go to work, wear a mask when shopping (unless you want to sing)… where will this end?’
Mansfield MP Ben Bradley branded vaccine passports ‘ineffective and discriminatory’, and said he could not ‘vote for restrictions ‘just in case’ at a time when hospitalisations and deaths are falling’.
Asked whether Tory rebels will be putting lives at risk, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘The advice that we have received is without action – given the incredibly fast growth rate of this variant – the consequences, in terms of hospitalisations and deaths, could be severe.’
Several Cabinet ministers, including Kwasi Kwarteng, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Grant Shapps, are understood to feel Plan B is unnecessary at this point.
Tory former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the Cabinet was ‘full of scaredy-cats’ who panic rather than resist fresh curbs.
Questioned in a round of interviews on Thursday morning over whether it makes sense to instruct staff to work from home but go to parties and other social events, Mr Javid said: ‘I think it is proportionate, actually, when you look at these measures, whether it is the working-from-home guidance, the rules around face masks, the NHS Covid pass, and all of these.
‘It is a real sort of spectrum of response that you can have.
‘It could be guidance, you could have Covid passes clearly in more settings, you could have face masks in more settings, but you have to take a balanced decision that takes into account a number of factors and, of course, the key here is to slow the spread of the new variant, and these measures will help do that.’
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We, of course, keep them under review, but they will have a significant impact in slowing the spread of the variant.’
Economic experts have criticised the restrictions ahead of the crucial pre-Christmas period, warning they could cost the economy £4billion a month and ‘easily’ knock two per cent off the size of the economy.
The hospitality industry said Plan B will kill off festive trade – a period when pubs, nightclubs and restaurants make a third of their annual profits. There are calls for a return to furlough and cash grants for restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars.
Clive Wilson, Chairman of The City Pub Company, said together with rising energy costs and other pressures he expected to price of a pint to rise by around 40p.
‘For restaurants and the late night economy – a third of your profit is made in December. People have described this as a body blow – it’s more than that – it’s taking off the life support machine yet again,’ he said.
‘And I notice that the Chancellor is not providing any further state aid.
‘The current state aid is not enough. Please please give us that enhanced state aid to help us get through those leaner months otherwise a lot of businesses in our sector will run out of cash.’
Economic experts also criticised the move ahead of the crucial pre-Christmas period, warning they could cost the economy £4 billion a month and ‘easily’ knock 2 per cent off the size of the economy.
Lord Sugar tweeted that the Prime Minister must be removed from office, saying: ‘Plan B. Boris is mental. Work from home but you can go to nightclubs and football matches if you are double vax. The man must go. Correct me if I am wrong but I have not heard of any one who had to go to hospital with this new strain let alone die. Small BIZ will collapse’.
Road congestion in London was on Thursday at its lowest level of the week so far for the morning rush hour, with TomTom data giving a figure of 68 per cent between 8am and 9am this morning.
This was down from 75 per cent yesterday, 79 per cent on Tuesday and 69 per cent on Monday for the same time period. It was also down on Thursday of last week, which was 73 per cent.
TomTom data also revealed that Thursday saw the lowest congestion on a midweek day of Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday since the start of November.
It was last at such a low level when Thursday, November 4 had the same figure as Thursday of 68 per cent.
The midweek day analysis is important because in recent months many workers have been working from home on Mondays and Fridays but going into the office from Tuesday to Thursday.
The congestion level represents the extra travel time for drivers on average compared to baseline uncongested conditions – so a 68 per cent level means a 30-minute trip will take 20 minutes more than with no traffic.
In the Commons last night, Mr Harper said the evidence on the spread of Omicron, which has yet to hospitalise a single person in the UK, simply ‘doesn’t support the introduction of these measures’.
He told MPs: ‘Over the past couple of weeks the Government’s credibility, whether it’s on Paterson or on the Christmas parties, has taken a hit.
‘Why should people at home, listening to the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary, do things that people working in No10 are not prepared to do?’
Fellow Tory Philip Davies criticised the ‘latest in a long line of arbitrary, unnecessary, socialist measures’ and suggested Mr Javid had ‘gone native’.
The Covid clampdown came just hours after the PM issued a rare apology over a leaked video that showed his former press secretary Allegra Stratton and other No10 aides appearing to laugh and joke about the alleged Christmas party during a mock press conference.
The video infuriated relatives of Covid victims who pointed out they had been unable to visit their dying loved ones under lockdown rules in place at the time when No10 staff were partying.
Mr Johnson yesterday repeated his claim that no rules had been broken.
But Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientist, appeared to take a swipe at No 10’s conduct when they stood alongside Mr Johnson last night imploring people to follow the restrictions.
Sir Patrick said: ‘The rules are quite carefully thought through… and they’re there for everybody to stick to.’
Professor Whitty added: ‘We all know that people get very angry, including colleagues and friends, when they feel that it’s unfair.’
At a stormy session of Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Mr Johnson issued a rare apology for the Christmas party video row, saying he was ‘furious’ to see the clip of No 10 aides ‘seeming to make light of lockdown measures’.
He added: ‘I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country, and I apologise for the impression that it gives.’ ‘But I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken, and that is what I have been repeatedly assured.’
No 10 said that it was ‘categorically untrue’ to suggest the move to Plan B had been accelerated to divert attention from the disastrous coverage of alleged rule-breaking by the PM’s staff.
Mr Johnson also insisted that the emerging evidence about the rapid spread of the virus had left him with no choice but to move now: ‘You’ve got to act to protect public health when you’ve got the clear evidence. The best way to ensure we all have a Christmas as close to normal as possible is to get on with Plan B. Irritating though it may be, it is not a lockdown.’
He also said that the best way to avoid a huge wave of the virus next month was for people to follow the new rules and get their booster jabs.
A Whitehall source last night said the introduction of Plan B was designed to slow the spread of the new variant and shift the expected peak next month back to February or March, by which time many more people will have had their booster jabs.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister’s apology ‘raises more questions than answers’ because he had been ‘caught red-handed’.
He added: ‘Millions of people now think the Prime Minister was taking them for fools, that they were lied to.’
Wes Streeting, Labour’s health spokesman, said Labour supported the new restrictions as being ‘in the national interest’, meaning they will almost certainly be approved in the Commons.
But Mr Johnson is certain to face a Tory backlash when MPs vote on the measures next Tuesday while party members have threatened to quit.
Source from dailymail.co.uk