Boris Johnson is expected to introduce Plan B restrictions in order to curb the spread of Covid and the Omicron variant. Here’s everything you need to know about Plan B, from vaccine passports to working from home measures
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The UK government is widely tipped to announce England’s ‘Plan B’ as soon as today to try and reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
Cases of the new variant, Omicron, are on the rise and the strategy to curb the number of infections is being discussed by Boris Johnson and his cabinet, according to reports.
Scientists are wary of the variant and early indications suggest that is it more easily transmitted, though this has not yet been proven.
If it is, then experts are concerned that mass transmissions could overwhelm a struggling NHS.
Scientific advisers from SAGE, the government advisory group, believe that Omicron infections in the UK are on course to double every three days.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, SAGE’s Professor Neil Ferguson said: “[Omicron] is likely to overtake Delta before Christmas at this rate, precisely when is hard to say.”
Plan B will enforce more restrictions than mask-wearing mandates already in place.
So what is Plan B?
What is the government’s Plan B strategy?
The government’s Plan B strategy was drawn up in September this year and outlines what restrictions would be put in place should a dramatic rise in coronavirus cases occur.
Daily cases are now threatening to go above 50,000 for the first time since July.
The controversial vaccine passports will be a feature of life under Plan B restrictions.
Nightclubs would require vaccine passports, which the government are also calling ‘vaccine-only certification’.
The current list of places that can expect vaccine passports are:
“All nightclubs and other venues open after 1am with alcohol, music and dancing”
Indoor events with 500 or more attendees, where attendees are expected to mix. This includes music venues or large receptions.
Outdoor settings with 4,000 or more attendees, such as music festivals, where attendees are expected to mix
Any setting with 10,000 or more attendees
It has not been ruled out that vaccine passports will extend further than these venues, though the government is not keen to do this over fears that a Plan B scenario would have a significant economic impact.
Vaccine passport exemptions
According to the initial plans, there are places where vaccine passports will not apply.
Places where people worship together
Wedding and civil partnership ceremonies
Funerals and memorial services
‘Life-cycle events such as at a bar and bat mitzvah, mehndi ceremony or christening
“Outdoor events in public spaces where these are unticketed and not charged for (such as street parties, protests, carnivals and marathons)”
Events at home
Working from home
According to the government policy paper published in September, Plan B will prioritise “measures which can help control transmission of the virus while seeking to minimise economic and social impact.”
One way of controlling transmission is asking people to work from home.
Once again, this has not been confirmed and the September report stated that this would be assessed at the time the restrictions were put in place.
However, Scotland has already taken this step and it is likely to happen if Plan B is triggered.
Wearing face masks
The wearing of face masks in shops and on public transport is a mandatory rule already introduced.
It is unlikely to change if Plan B is introduced, as it was already set to be part of any Plan B.
A full breakdown by the Mirror of where masks are required can be seen here. The list includes shops and public transport, as well as places like pharmacies, vets and salons.
Other measures are also already in place, including isolation for all arrivals to the UK until their Day 2 PCR test comes back negative, and a new law saying you must isolate for 10 days if you have contact with a suspected Omicron case – even if you’re fully vaccinated.
Will Plan B be implemented?
The government will reportedly announce Plan B restrictions as soon as Wednesday December 8. Some restrictions may be in place by Thursday morning, though this is unconfirmed.
Covid cases are high and the reinfection rate, or ‘R rate’ is causing concern.
If it is over 1, then it is believed that each person is infecting at least one other person on average. Initial research for the Omicron variant’s R rate is believed to be as high as 3.47, according to the University of East Anglia.
Could there be a Christmas lockdown?
The higher the cases, the more likely a lockdown over Christmas will occur.
This would very much be considered a last resort if Plan B does nothing to slow the rate of cases down.
A lockdown would mean a return to social bubbles and only leaving the house for essential items or for daily exercise. Bars and restaurants may be expected to shut once again under this scenario.
It currently remains unlikely, and there are hopes that the Omicron variant does not give people symptoms as severe as other variants. The vaccine should also help curb transmissions and reduce symptoms when vaccinated people catch the virus.
If hospital cases skyrocket, then a lockdown may be needed to protect the NHS.
What would trigger Plan B?
Key questions the government would ask include:
- Is the NHS in danger of being overwhelmed? This crucially isn’t just about cases – hospitalisations and deaths are more important. Key metrics include “hospital occupancy for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, intensive care unit (ICU) capacity, admissions in vaccinated individuals, and the rate of growth of admissions.”
- The link between hospitalisation and infections: The winter plan says the Government is monitoring “the ratio of cases to hospitalisations” and also “the proportion of admissions due to infections” among other factors. It also states ministers are keeping an eye on how many people over 65-years-old are catching Covid-19 or ending up in hospital.
- Vaccine efficacy and immunity: A major booster campaign for the over-50s and the most vulnerable started in September, but there are some calls for it to be stepped up. Crucial will be whether immunity across the population is waning, or whether it’s being kept strong by the booster programme.
- The impact of new variants: In recent months the threat of a new, more deadly or more infectious variant appears to have faded. But that doesn’t mean it won’t emerge in future months, and the government now has a sequencing infrastructure that will attempt to spot them as they appear.
When were the rules supposed to be reviewed?
The current emergency laws on face masks and travel testing were introduced for an initial three weeks, expiring on December 20.
That means Mr Johnson is expected to make an announcement to MPs in the final week before Parliament breaks up on December 16.
That announcement could reduce, increase or simply extend the length of time they apply for.
However, all that timetable will be essentially made irrelevant if Plan B restrictions are announced earlier.
Downing Street did not rule out imposing snap restrictions during recess or earlier if necessary.