Plan B: Prime minster announces people should work from home in new Covid restrictions as Portsmouth reacts to move to counter Omicron variant
PRIME minister Boris Johnson has told people to work from home again in a dramatic announcement amid fears over the ‘rapid’ spread of the Omicron Covid variant.
Mr Johnson confirmed it was time to move to ‘Plan B’ of the government’s coronavirus strategy on Wednesday evening in a Downing Street press conference.
It comes as Portsmouth recorded its first case of the new ‘South African’ strain, while MPs backed the move to ‘slow the spread of the virus’ with Christmas just over two weeks away.
Other measures introduced by the government included the requirement of face masks to now be worn in most indoor settings from Friday.
Vaccine passports or a negative lateral flow test will also be required for nightclubs and large events in a week's time.
Mr Johnson said: ‘It has become increasingly clear that Omicron is growing much faster than the previous Delta variant and is spreading rapidly all around the world.’
While 568 cases had been confirmed in the UK ‘the true number is certain to be much higher’,
‘Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of Omicron could currently be between two and three days,’ Mr Johnson said.
Politicians across the area have said the surge of the new Omicron variant had made the move to introduce restrictions inevitable - with the public urged to do their bit.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said: ‘People have always been incredible in following the healthcare advice to slow the spread and ensure the NHS does get overwhelmed. I know people take that advice and their responsibilities seriously and I thank them for it.
‘The reason for following the advice is to protect each other. The more we stop the spread the more we help people in our own community, in Queen Alexandra Hospital, in our street and in our own families.
‘There will be some people that decide not to follow the rules, they will be in a minority and we should not let them dissuade us from doing so. Let's take care of each other, and get our jabs and boosters, as the people of Portsmouth have done tremendously to date.’
Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage said: ‘We are now seeing a growth mirroring that in South Africa where hospitalisations and deaths are doubling.
‘The changes suggested today are relatively minor but the government needs to act proportionately and responsibly to slow the spread and keep people safe.
‘A number of constituents have contacted me with concerns regarding the increase in Covid cases locally and the impact that this could have on our NHS over the winter months.’
Leader of Portsmouth City Council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: ‘It's clear there's now community transmission (in Portsmouth) - it's not just travel, it's in the community.’
Speaking on working from home, he said: 'That's a sensible measure. It works well for some people but is much more difficult for others and there needs to be support in place for them.
'But the most important thing is making sure people are safe and these measures will help.
'The government needs to do something about schools because cases there are so high at the moment and that will only lead to further increases in household transmission.'
Meanwhile Pompey warned supporters over the new measures that would affect games with an attendance of 10,000 or more.
A club statement said: ‘In order to attend games, supporters aged 18 and above could be required to show an up-to-date NHS Covid pass proving they have received both vaccinations.
‘It is not yet clear whether the checks would be mandatory for every supporter or spot checks on a mandatory minimum number of spectators would be required.
‘The EFL and Premier League are working hard with the government to understand more about how the measures would impact on football.
‘EFL clubs are conscious that these checks – whether mandatory or random – would certainly lead to increased queuing time at turnstiles.
‘The club are already working through and planning a series of contingency measures to minimise disruption on matchdays, but supporters can also play their part by being personally ready for any potential introduction of Covid Plan B, especially given the measures would be introduced at just seven days’ notice.’
Nightclubs and theatre venues were in bullish mood after the announcement.
Alistair Ritchie, owner of Astoria nightclub and Mr Miyagi’s in Guildhall Walk, said Covid had been 'incredibly difficult' for the industry.
He said his team would be 'fine' despite new measures demanding revellers to show a Covid passport proving they've had two jabs, or a negative lateral flow test, to get entry to unseated venues of 500 or more people.
Alistair said: 'We’ll be fine, our team have spent the last two years working with the authorities to ensure we follow the advice and rules set out by Public Health England.
'Covid has been an incredibly difficult time for our industry, but the support from the local community towards The Astoria and Mr Miyagi’s has been outstanding.
'When the full details have been released from government, we’ll update our social media platforms with information for our customers. Tickets for our Christmas and New Year’s Eve event have been selling faster than ever, we certainly look forward to welcoming in 2022.'
Paul Woolf, chief executive at the Kings Theatre in Albert Road, Southsea, said time will tell if people's confidence has been shaken by the announcement.
Theatre-goers must, from Friday, wear a face mask in order to slow the spread of Covid.
Mr Woolf said: 'It will be interesting for us to see over the next few days whether the confidence of people has been knocked again.
'Alright, he stands up and says he doesn't want to knock people’s confidence - he's blind if he doesn’t realise that's what happens.
‘They're either going to be nervous and not come out or be so fed up with him that they'll come out anyway.
‘I don't know which it will be - most have had enough of him.’
Ticket sales have remained strong through the run of the in-house panto, Jack and the Beanstalk.
'We've been fortunate up until now - our ticket sales have been strong and we've seen some big houses up until now,' he said.
He said currently audience members are mixed in terms of mask wearing - but his team will now include in pre-show emails a note highlighting the government requirement.
Malisa Chafer, chair of the independent No 6 Cinema, said most people attending were wearing masks anyway.
She said: ‘We've got a very big auditorium and we haven’t got huge audiences so it means everybody can spread out when they're in the auditorium.’
But she said public confidence in going out has been knocked.
‘Our numbers are down from where we would have been in a similar period when we were fully open normally,' she said.
‘That’s noticeable. There are fewer people coming in. Some of our older regulars don't seem to have reappeared.’
The announcement on Wednesday may not be followed by all, given the latest news about the denied Downing Street party in December last year.
Ms Chafer added: ‘I don't know if people will comply if they feel the upper echelons aren't doing it.
‘It will be interesting to see how compliant people are.’
But she said the cinema is prepared for masks, and Covid passports, to ensure it can keep welcoming customers.