The Prime Minister announced new measures on Wednesday 8 December 2021 to slow down the spread of the Omicron Variant in the UK, taking precautionary steps to bolster our wall of defence against this new variant.
The Omicron variant is growing much faster than the previous Delta variant, doubling every two to three days – risking a potentially serious rise in hospitalisations and death. 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. The data in South Africa is showing a rapid increase in hospitalisations. That is why the Government has announced targeted and proportionate measures, subject to approval by Parliament, to slow the spread of the new variant, including:
- Face masks becoming mandatory in public indoor settings except hospitality from Friday 10 December. (To view the full guidance on face coverings, please visit here).
- Advice to work from home if you can from Monday 13 December.
- The requirement to show proof of vaccination or a negative lateral flow test through the NHS Covid Pass for entry to nightclubs and settings where large crowds gather from Wednesday 15 December.
- 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.
As Omicron spreads in the community, we will also introduce daily tests for contacts instead of isolation, so we keep people safe while minimising the disruption to daily life.
A full list of guidance on these changes are available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-19-coronavirus-restrictions-what-you-can-and-cannot-do and will be updated with more information in the coming days. 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 continue to assess the Omicron variant and will keep the data under constant review. These measures will also be kept under review and are set to expire six weeks after implementation, with a review after three weeks. Taken together, the Government is hopeful these measures will reduce transmission and slow the spread of the Omicron variant, and will continue to urge those eligible to get their boosters when called - our scientists are clear that vaccines remain our first line of defence.
For anymore information on the Government’s decision to introduce Plan B measures, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-confirms-move-to-plan-b-in-england.
Will Plan B measures be debated and voted on in Parliament before they are implemented?
Yes. Face covering regulations will be laid in parliament Thursday 9 Decemeber, 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.
How long will these measures last?
These measures will be kept under review and are set to expire six weeks after implementation, with a review after three weeks.
As we learn more, we will be guided by the hard medical data around four key criteria: the efficacy of our vaccines and boosters, the severity of Omicron, the speed of its spread, and the rate of hospitalisations. The Government will constantly monitor the data and keep it under review. We must be humble in the face of this virus, but if it becomes clear that the boosters are capable of holding this Omicron variant and we have boosted enough people to do the job of keeping Omicron in equilibrium then we will be able to move forward as before.
Why has the Government implemented Plan B measures if only 568 people have the Omicron variant as of Wednesday 8 December?
We are learning more every day and do not yet know Omicron’s severity, its exact rate of transmission, nor indeed the full effectiveness of our vaccines against it. However, it has become increasingly clear that Omicron is growing much faster than the Delta variant, and it is spreading rapidly all around the world. 568 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 be currently between two and three days. While there are some limits to what we can learn from South Africa, not least due to different rates of vaccination and previous infection, we are seeing growth in cases here in the UK that mirrors the rapid increases seen in South Africa. South Africa is also seeing hospitalisations roughly doubling in a week, meaning we cannot yet assume that Omicron is less severe than previous variants.
While the picture may get better, we know that the remorseless logic of exponential growth could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations, and therefore sadly in deaths. That is why it is now the proportionate and responsible thing to move to Plan B in England, whilst continuing to work closely with our colleagues in the Devolved Administrations.
When should I start working from home?
Monday 13 December.
What if I can’t work from home?
Employees should work from home if they can. Anyone who cannot work from home should continue to go into work.
If you need to continue to go into work, consider taking lateral flow tests regularly to manage your own risk and the risk to others.
For those who attend their workplace, the Government will continue to provide up-to-date Working Safely guidance on how employers can reduce the risks in their workplace. Businesses should consider this guidance when preparing their health and safety risk assessments, and put in place suitable mitigations.
When will face coverings be required to be worn by law in most indoor settings?
Friday 10 December.
Will face coverings be mandatory in every indoor setting?
There will be exemptions where it is not practical, such as when eating, drinking, exercising or singing. To view the full list of indoor setting where you are required to wear a face covering, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own#when-to-wear-a-face-covering.
In indoor settings where a face covering is not legally required, you should still continue to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you may come into contact with other people you do not normally meet.
Can I be exempt from wearing a face covering?
If you have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering, then you are exempt from wearing one. To view the full list of exemptions, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own#if-you-are-not-able-to-wear-a-face-covering.
When will certain venues and events be required by law to check that all visitors aged 18 years or over are fully vaccinated, have proof of a negative test in the last 48 hours, or have an exemption?
Wednesday 15 December.
What venues will require NHS COVID Pass for entry?
The use of the NHS COVID Pass is required as a condition of entry into the following places:
- nightclubs, dancehalls and discotheques;
- other late night dance venues. These are any other venues that are:
- open between 1am and 5am;
- serve alcohol during this time;
- have a dancefloor (or designated space for dancing); and
- provide music, whether live or recorded, for dancing.
- indoor events with 500 or more unseated attendees, where those attendees are likely to stand or move around for all or part of the event, such as music venues with standing audiences or large receptions;
- outdoor events with 4,000 or more unseated attendees, where those attendees are likely to stand or move around for all or part of the event, such as outdoor festivals; and
- any events with 10,000 or more attendees indoor or outdoor, such as large sports and music events
There are some settings that will be exempt from requirements to use the NHS COVID Pass including communal worship, wedding ceremonies, funerals and other commemorative events, protests, and mass participation sporting events.
Will I qualify for the NHS COVID Pass with only two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine?
Yes. The NHS COVID Pass can be obtained with two doses (or one of the single-dose Janssen vaccine), but we will keep this under review as boosters are rolled out.
How long after completing a full course of vaccination (currently a full course of vaccination is without the need for a booster, but this will be kept under review) can I obtain an NHS COVID Pass?
You can obtain an NHS COVID Pass two weeks after completing a full course of vaccination.
Will I qualify for the NHS COVID Pass if I received a trial vaccine?
You can still obtain an NHS COVID Pass if you have received a trial vaccine as part of a formally approved COVID-19 vaccine trial in the UK.
Will I qualify for the NHS COVID Pass if I couldn’t medically be vaccinated?
You can still obtain an NHS COVID Pass if you have a medical reason that means you cannot be vaccinated, confirmed by your GP or a specialist clinician
Will I qualify for the NHS COVID Pass with a negative lateral flow test?
Yes. Having taken clinical advice since the emergence of Omicron, a negative lateral flow test in the last 48 hours will also be sufficient.
How can I access my MHS COVID Pass?
You can access your NHS COVID Pass through:
You can also show email or text proof of your negative test result in order to gain entry to these venues.
Will schools be closing early?
No, schools will not be closing early and our updated guidance ensures face-to-face education continues. School attendance remains mandatory.
Will pupils and students have to wear face coverings or masks?
Our latest guidance does not change the advice on face coverings.
We have already advised that staff, visitors and pupils or students in year 7 and above should wear a face covering in communal areas. This includes FE and HE settings. We do not recommend that pupils and staff wear face coverings in classrooms, unless their Director of Public Health advises them to temporarily do so in one of the circumstances described in the Contingency Framework Guidance.
In early years settings and primary schools, we already recommend that face coverings should be worn by staff and adults (including visitors) when moving around in corridors and communal areas.
Can Nativities and Christmas events still go ahead?
Yes. Nativities and Christmas events can continue to go ahead.
Do parents and other people attending events need to test?
Schools, colleges early years settings and universities should continue to encourage those attending events to test beforehand and use face coverings and to ensure those events are held in well ventilated spaces.
What are the rules on testing in educational settings?
Testing should take place regardless of symptoms – this is called asymptomatic testing and helps stop people with the virus but who don’t have symptoms spreading it inadvertently.
Staff in all education and childcare settings and students, of secondary school age and above should continue to test twice weekly at home with lateral flow device (LFD) test kits, 3-4 days apart, for the remainder of the autumn term and on return in the spring term.
Staff and students who are continuing to attend education/childcare settings over the Christmas period should continue to be encouraged to test at-home twice weekly.
Staff and students who are not attending their setting during the holiday period may wish to take a rapid lateral flow test in situations where they are more likely to catch or spread COVID-19. This includes spending time in crowded and enclosed spaces, or before visiting people who are at higher risk of severe illness if they catch COVID-19.
Schools and colleges are strongly encouraged to ask parents and other visitors to take a lateral flow device (LFD) test before visiting the school.