The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced that England will move to ‘Plan B’ in order to protect the NHS, as the new variant of concern, ‘Omicron’, rapidly spreads across the UK.

There are currently 568 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK, with early analysis suggesting that cases could double at a rate of as little as two-and-a-half to three days.

For this reason, the government has decided now is the right time to implement new measures.

Mandatory face masks reintroduced and home working encouraged

From Friday 10 December, face coverings will become compulsory in most public indoor venues, including cinemas, theatres and places of worship, but not in hospitality venues.

From Monday 13 December, the government will be advising those who can to work from home. In his parliamentary statement, the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said the guidance will be updated to say that “only people who cannot work from home should continue to go into their workplace.

“We know that this has an important play in slowing transmission, both at workplaces and on public transport.”

Subject to parliamentary approval, the government will also introduce mandatory certification for entry to large venues from Wednesday 15 December. This includes either proof of vaccination or a negative test result.

The delay for introduction of this measure will give businesses a week’s notice, as laid out in the government’s mandatory certification proposals published in September.

The government say they will keep the data under constant review, with the regulations set to expire six weeks after implementation.

The decision to implement Plan B “is the right one”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation said: “Health leaders across the country have been very clear with us that it is better to be safe than sorry. If there are additional measures that could be taken that do not drastically interfere with people’s daily lives but could make a big difference to cutting transmission of the disease then it would be reckless not to take them.

“We are relieved the Government has finally listened and hope these precautionary measures have not come too late. No one wants another national lockdown or for patient care to become disrupted again given how hard frontline teams are working, including in tackling the elective care backlog and steering the booster programme.”

Taylor adds that curbing the spread is not just a government responsibility, and the public plays a vital role in slowing the spread by wearing face coverings, getting vaccinated and testing regularly.

The British Medical Association have echoed this response, saying that the government’s decision to implement Plan B “is the right one”.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair said: “We’re already seeing some hospitals cancelling elective care again, ambulances queuing for hours on end, and patients suffering as a result of the existing pressures on the system and the backlog.

“There is no slack in the NHS, so while the number of Covid hospitalisations today is much lower than last winter, we must not risk complacency by ignoring the rapid doubling of omicron cases every 2 to 3 days, which may result in hospital admissions in the weeks to come. This threatens to overwhelm the health service and could have a major impact on the NHS’s ability to cope this winter.”

Dr Nagpaul added that by adding restrictions now, we can “we can save lives, reduce pressure on the NHS and avoid more draconian restrictions in the future.”