Yesterday (Wednesday 8 December 2021), the Prime Minister announced a move to Plan-B measures of the Covid-19 Autumn/Winter Plan. Plan B measures will come into force while more data on vaccine efficacy is assessed.
Moving to Plan B will help to slow the spread of the Omicron variant and reduce the chances of the NHS coming under unsustainable pressure, while buying time to deliver more boosters.
Key Points about Plan-B:
- From 10 Dec, mandatory face covering rules are extended to most indoor settings (but will not include hospitality settings).
- From 13 Dec, guidance is for people to work from home if they can. Anyone who cannot work from home should continue to travel to their workplace.
- From 15 Dec, introduction of mandatory certification for certain settings. This will mean a requirement to show vaccination status or a recent negative test to enter certain high risk settings.
These measures are in addition to:
- A continued push on testing. This includes people testing before they meet others, socialise or go to crowded or enclosed places.
- A continued push on vaccines and boosters – being fully vaccinated is the best way for people to protect themselves against catching Covid-19.
- Continued messaging on ventilation – let in fresh air when meeting indoors.
On 27 November, the government acted to slow the spread of Omicron while more data was collected and assessed. The most recent data suggests that Omicron has a very high growth rate and is spreading rapidly. There are currently 568 cases confirmed across the UK and early analysis from the UK Health Security Agency suggesting the doubling time could be as little as 2.5 to 3 days.
As seen in previous waves, a swift rise in cases can lead to a rapid rise in hospitalisations, which will quickly lead to pressure on the NHS. While it is likely there is some level of reduced vaccine effectiveness against Omicron, it is still too early to determine the extent of this. The government will continue to look closely at all the emerging data.
The NHS has confirmed a huge expansion of the booster programme, with the National Booking Service now open to all those aged over 40 to book their jabs. The dose interval has also been shortened from six months to three months, with those eligible now able to book a month in advance – two months after their second dose.
The vaccine programme will be supported by the continued development of world-leading treatments. The Prime Minister confirmed a new national study that will see 10,000 UK patients at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 given the treatment molnupiravir to treat their symptoms at home.
Testing will also be a vital tool in controlling the spread given the likely increased transmissibility of Omicron. As there is now demonstrated community transmission of Omicron, the government intend to introduce daily contact tests for contacts of confirmed positive cases instead of the ten-day self-isolation period.
The public is urge to test using a lateral flow device, particularly before entering a high-risk setting involving people you wouldn’t normally come into contact with, or when visiting a vulnerable person. Lateral flow devices remain free of charge and can be collected from local pharmacies.
Outline of New Plan-B Measures
- From Friday 10 December, face coverings will become compulsory in most public indoor venues, such as cinemas, theatres and places of worship. There will be exemptions in venues where it is not practical to wear one, such as when you are eating, drinking or exercising. For that reason, face masks will not be required in hospitality settings.
- From Monday 13 December, those who can will be advised to work from home.
- From Wednesday 15 December, and subject to parliamentary approval, the NHS Covid Pass on the NHS App will become mandatory for entry into nightclubs and settings where large crowds gather – including unseated indoor events with 500 or more attendees, unseated outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees and any event with 10,000 or more attendees.
People will be able to demonstrate proof of two vaccine doses via the app. Having considered the evidence since the emergence of Omicron, proof of a negative lateral flow test will also be accepted.
- Introducing Covid-status certification from next Wednesday will give businesses a week’s notice, as promised in the government’s proposals for introducing mandatory certification published in September.
Face covering regulations will be laid in parliament today, with the remaining regulations laid on Monday 13 December. Parliament will debate the measures next week, with a vote expected to take place on Tuesday 14 December.
The government will keep the data under constant review. The regulations set to expire six weeks after implementation, with a review after three weeks.