Covid-19: Plan B restrictions passed amid growing Tory dissent

Published by Scott Challinor on December 15th 2021, 9:09am

Covid Winter Plan B rules have entered force in England from today, after the measures were approved in a string of Commons votes on Tuesday.

However, it wasn’t a comfortable evening for the prime minister, after 99 Conservative MPs voted against the introduction of Covid passports.

The new rules require adults to show a Covid passport to enter nightclubs, large sporting events and other large venues, bringing England in line with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In the other votes where there were less dissenting voices, MPs passed measures requiring adults to work from home where possible, and Parliament approved mandatory mask wearing being extended to further venues including cinemas and theatres.

Meanwhile, fully vaccinated individuals who encounter positive cases will not be required to self-isolate, and instead have to take daily lateral flow tests.

The Covid passport requires adults to show proof of double-vaccination or a negative test to enter venues where it is in force.

Venues where the rule must be applied in England include nightclubs, indoor unseated venues with over 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with over 4,000 people, and any venue with over 10,000 people in attendance.

However, it was a sobering night for prime minister Boris Johnson, who was only able to push the Covid passport measure through thanks to Labour’s support.

The 99 Tory MPs that voted against the government is the largest rebellion that Johnson has faced in his premiership to date. Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said that it was “a very significant blow” to Johnson’s “already damaged authority”, despite his party having voted with the government.

Conservative backbenchers urged the prime minister to read the mood of his party and take heed of the fact that attitudes toward further restrictions were hardening.

Sir Geoffrey Clinton-Brown, a Conservative who voted against Covid passports, suggested that a leadership challenge against Johnson had to “be on the cards” in 2022.

Mark Harper, the former Conservative chief whip, called on the PM either to “listen and respond and do things differently” or ignore the voices of his colleagues and “see the same thing happen over and over again”.

Sir Charles Walker, former acting chair of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, believed Covid passports were “a bridge too far” for many and the rebellion had put the PM in a “very, very, very difficult position.”

Walker said: “It was a cry of pain from the Conservative Party. There has been a strong view within the Conservative Party that vaccine passports do not work and is not something many colleagues wanted to see introduced.

“This is a very, very specific line being drawn in the sand now and I think the prime minister and his team need to listen.”

Elsewhere, transport secretary Grant Shapps believed that Johnson’s leadership was vindicated by the public’s response to his appeal to take up the booster jab and stave off the Omicron variant. He also informed the BBC that he hoped there would not need to be new Covid measures introduced before the New Year.

Since news broke of the Omicron variant’s prevalence in the UK, there have been swathes of long queues to receive booster jabs and significant strain has been put on the supply of lateral flow and PCR tests.

On Monday a total of 513,722 booster jabs were administered across the UK.

On Tuesday, 59,610 new Covid cases were recorded across the UK, and 150 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test. 633 of those cases were reported to be Omicron, taking the total number of confirmed cases of the variant in the country to 5,346.

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, has also indicated that hospitalisations are on the rise.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

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Scott Challinor
Business Editor
December 15th 2021, 9:09am

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