Plan B for Covid: new rules for NHS Covid pass, mask wearing and working from home

The Government’s Plan B for dealing with the new Covid Omicron variant has been passed by Parliament - see all the new rules that are now law

Covid cases have been rising in the UK in recent days, as well as the new Covid Omicron variant now being identified in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands.

The Government had been continuing with Covid Plan A in response to the number of coronavirus infections, but is set to implement its alternative plan for dealing with rising cases, known as Covid Plan B.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Covid Plan B?

Covid Plan B is the Government’s alternative winter plan for dealing with a rise in Covid-19 cases and has now been approvied by Parliament and is being implemented as Omicron variant cases rise.

Under Plan B the Government has brought back guidance to work from home, alongside face masks in most indoor venues, including theatres and cinemas.

There are exceptions to wearing masks when eating, drinking, exercising and singing.

Mandatory vaccine passports are being brought back for larger events and nightclubs, where people must prove they are double-jabbed.

Venues include those indoors that are unseated with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue hosting more than 10,000 people.

A negative lateral flow test is also sufficient proof.

At a glance 5 key points

  • Mask wearing to be extended
  • Work from home guidance has been reintroduced
  • NHS Covid pass will be introduced for entry into large venues
  • Measures will be reviewed on 5 January
  • Sajid Javid said they were being imposed with a “heavy heart”
Covid winter plan explained (Graphic: Mark Hall/JPIMedia)Covid winter plan explained (Graphic: Mark Hall/JPIMedia)
Covid winter plan explained (Graphic: Mark Hall/JPIMedia)

When will Plan B be introduced?

People have been advised to work from home since Monday (13 December).

Face masks have been required since Friday 10 December, and vaccine passports are introduced from today (Wednesday 15 December).

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, whose data was instrumental to the UK going into lockdown in March 2020, said that “case numbers of Omicron are doubling at least every three days, maybe even every two days at the moment, so it’s accelerating very fast”.

He said lockdowns are a possibility and cannot be ruled out, but working from home guidance could slow the spread.

“There is a rationale, just epidemiologically, to try and slow this down, to buy us more time principally to get boosters into people’s arms, because we do think people who are boosted will have the best level of protection possible, but also to buy us more time to really better characterise the threat,” he said.

He suggested “a kind of Plan B Plus with working from home might slow it down” rather than stopping Omicron, reversing the doubling time to every five or six days.

Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson has not confirmed a threshold for triggering Plan B, the plan describes "unsustainable pressure" on the NHS as the trigger.

Government scientific advisers are currently monitoring the number of Covid hospitalisations, any rapid or major changes in deaths or cases, and the overall state of the NHS.

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