Prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that England will move to Covid Winter Plan B, which will see several social restrictions return.
The PM told individuals that they must work from home if they can from next week, while mandatory face mask wearing has been extended to more venues including cinemas and theatres, although pubs and restaurants remain exempt.
Johnson explained that it made sense to make mask exemptions where people would be “eating, drinking, exercising or singing”, while Downing Street sources have informed the Telegraph that masks are not expected to be made compulsory in classrooms.
For the first time in England, however, Covid passports will be introduced from December 15 for large venues. Any individuals wishing to enter places where they are in force will require proof of having received two doses of the vaccine, or proof of a negative test.
The government has stopped short of re-introducing social distancing or closing non-essential businesses in what would constitute another lockdown.
The prime minister announced the new restrictions in the aftermath of the Downing Street Christmas party controversy, with some of his own MPs suggesting that Plan B was brought forward as a diversionary tactic.
However, Johnson insisted that he had chosen to trigger Plan B now given the sharp upward trajectory of cases of the new Omicron variant within the UK.
Cases are currently doubling every two to three days, and scientific projections indicate the country could hit one million cases of the variant by the end of December.
Johnson said: “Since I last spoke to you, it’s become increasingly clear that omicron is growing much faster than the previous delta variant, and it’s spreading rapidly all around the world.
“Five hundred and sixty-eight cases have been confirmed through genomic sequencing across every region of the UK, and the true number is certain to be much higher. Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of omicron in the UK could currently be between two and three days.”
Although the new variant could ultimately prove to bring milder symptoms and less hospitalisation, Johnson explained that he was simply unwilling to take any chances.
He said: “While the picture may get better, and I sincerely hope that it will, we know the remorseless logic of exponential growth could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations, and therefore sadly in deaths.
“And that is why it is now the proportionate and responsible thing to move to Plan B in England.”
The PM is expected to review the restrictions in January, but no date has yet been confirmed.
Some critics of the new restrictions have also called Plan B an “irrational” move, with the PM having stopped short of bringing masks back in hospitality settings and encouraged people to attend Christmas parties “with due caution”, despite being asked to work from home.
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said: “For a government which claims to follow the science, I think they’ve lost their marbles. The restrictions are incoherent and irrational.”
After December 15 when Covid passports enter force in England for the first time, they will be required for entry into all nightclubs in England, most indoor venues with over 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people attending.
MPs will vote on the new restrictions in Parliament next week.
Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons