Boris Johnson will announce he is DROPPING Plan B Covid curbs: Working from home guidance will end and face masks could go too as under-fire Prime Minister talks up success in Omicron battle
- Boris Johnson is to announce he is bringing an end to Plan B Covid restrictions
- Changes would include an end to government guidance to work from home
- Final decision on whether to scrap face masks is said to be ‘in the balance’
- Ministers believe PM deserves credit for calculated gamble before Christmas
Boris Johnson is poised to announce the lifting of Plan B restrictions today as he tries to underline the success of his strategy for beating Omicron.
Downing Street last night said the Prime Minister had summoned a special meeting of the Cabinet this morning to decide whether the measures put in place to halt the variant’s spread can be lifted.
The changes, which would come into force next week, will see an end to work from home guidance and the scrapping of controversial Covid passports.
Isolation periods for Covid are set to stay for now, however.
A final decision on whether to scrap mandatory face masks was last night said to be ‘in the balance’. Government scientists are understood to be pushing for compulsory masks to remain in force on public transport and in shops.
But a Whitehall source acknowledged that extending masks beyond January 26 would require a potentially explosive Commons vote, which Mr Johnson is anxious to avoid.
Senior figures in the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs have suggested that the Prime Minister would face a mutiny if he attempts to extend the measures.
Ministers believe Mr Johnson deserves credit for his calculated gamble in the run-up to Christmas to accelerate the booster rollout rather than impose lockdown restrictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce he is bringing Plan B Covid restrictions to an end
Finally! Sturgeon axes virus curbs indoors as infections fall rapidly
Covid restrictions are to be lifted in Scotland from Monday after Nicola Sturgeon yesterday revealed the country has ‘turned the corner on the Omicron wave’.
She confirmed the measures – a limit on the numbers at indoor events, table service only at bars and the closure of nightclubs – will be eased from January 24.
The first minister, who has been criticised for introducing extra-cautious rules, said guidance limiting gatherings to a maximum of three households will also end on the same date, along with restrictions on indoor contact sports.
She also said there would be no extension to vaccine passports, stating: ‘Given that cases are now falling quite rapidly and the current wave is receding, we decided that we will not at this stage extend the Covid certification scheme to other premises.’
The announcement comes the day after the Scottish government lifted its cap on numbers at outdoor events. Speaking at Holyrood, Miss Sturgeon said: ‘Although significant pressures and uncertainties remain, the data gives us confidence that we have turned the corner on the Omicron wave.
She added that over the last week the number of people testing positive with a PCR test had fallen from ‘an average of almost 13,000 a day to just over 4,600’ – a drop of 64 per cent.
Her comments came as latest figures show Scotland recorded another 7,752 Covid infections, along with a further 31 deaths yesterday. The number of people in hospital with the virus has fallen by 21 to 1,546, with 59 in intensive care – a rise of one.
Allies of the Prime Minister say those plotting against him have lost sight of the fact that his decision to defy the doomsday warnings of Government scientists has been vindicated.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday told MPs that the UK was now seeing cases fall despite being ‘the most open country in Europe’.
He added: ‘I’ve always said that these restrictions should not stay in place a day longer than they are absolutely necessary.
‘Due to… the likelihood that we have already reached the peak of the case numbers and hospitalisations, I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to substantially reduce measures next week.’
The Prime Minister yesterday said people still needed to be careful, particularly if they are unvaccinated.
He said he was ‘completely focused… on getting us through Covid’, adding: ‘We’ve had the fastest booster rollout of any European country, we’ve got the most open economy, that’s because of the hard work of everybody in Government, amazing work of the NHS, all the doctors and nurses up and down the country.’
The number of people testing positive for Covid has fallen by 39 per cent over the past week and hospital admissions with the virus are down by 3 per cent.
There were 94,432 new UK cases yesterday, which is down from 120,821 last Tuesday and a peak of 218,724 on January 4.
Hospitals in England admitted 1,768 patients with the virus on Sunday, the latest date for which data is available, which is down from a recent high of 2,370 on December 29.
There are now 16,218 patients in hospital in England with the virus, which is also down from 17,120 on January 10. Another 438 people died in the UK within 28 days of a positive test.
A government spokesman last night said the final decision on Plan B was ‘finely balanced’, adding: ‘Plan B was implemented in December to slow the rapid spread of the extremely transmissible Omicron variant, and get more jabs in arms.
It’s thanks to the phenomenal efforts of the NHS and many dedicated volunteers that we have now delivered over 36 million boosters to people across the UK.
‘The Omicron variant continues to pose a significant threat and the pandemic is not over. Infections remain high but the latest data is encouraging, with cases beginning to fall.
Vaccines remain our best line of defence and we urge people to come forward, to give themselves the best possible protection.’
Dr David Nabarro, the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on Covid-19, said the situation in the UK ‘gives us grounds for hope’.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘The goal that we’re all aiming for is a situation where this virus is present, but life is organised so that it is not disrupted.
‘We also need to be humble, this virus is continuing to evolve and we’re never quite sure that we know exactly where it’s going to go next. We need real honesty – it’s just no good anybody suggesting that the situation is rosier than it really is.
‘That’s why I’ve been careful. I’m saying I can see where the end is, I can see light at the end of the tunnel, but I really do anticipate right throughout the world a bumpy journey ahead during 2022.’
He told a press briefing yesterday he was particularly concerned about countries with low vaccination rates.
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