In an effort to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, Boris Johnson imposed tougher restrictions on Wednesday in England, ordering people to use masks in public places and use vaccine passes to work from home.
As a result of accusations that his staff partied during the Christmas lockdown last year, Johnson said Omicron spread rapidly, forcing him to switch to “Plan B” while a vaccine booster programme is implemented.Despite being far from the full lockdown imposed earlier in the pandemic, new measures were described as a “hammer blow” for city centre coffee shops, restaurants and shops in desperate need of Christmas business to rebuild their finances.
Members of Johnson’s own party are also upset with the new restrictions, concerned about the impact they will have on an economy that shrank by a historic 10 percent last year.
“While the picture may get better, and I sincerely hope that it will, we know that the remorseless logic of exponential growth could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations and therefore, sadly, in deaths,” Johnson said at a news conference.
The British pound fell sharply when it emerged that ‘plan B’ measures were imminent on Wednesday, and investors reduced their bets on a rate increase next week.
In July, Johnson lifted most Covid restrictions in England following a rapid vaccine rollout, vowing not to use a fourth Covid-19 lockdown, but he kept a “Plan B” on hand.
Work from home to slow down Omicron’s spread
Some of those measures, including the introduction of masks in shops and public transport, had already been implemented, but Johnson said Wednesday that people should now also work from home. In public venues such as theaters and cinemas, face masks will be required, and Covid passes will be required for nightclubs and venues with large crowds.
According to data, the doubling time of infections for Omicron is approximately two to three days, which is why Johnson said the new measures were necessary after 568 cases of Omicron were found in the country.
Omicron infections could be as many as 10,000, according to Health Secretary Sajid Javid. In fact, officials estimate that the number of Omicron infections is 20 times higher than the number of confirmed cases.
Jace Tyrrell, CEO of New West End Company, made the following statement, “The renewed ‘work from home’ order during the most important trading period of the year is a hammer blow for our retail and leisure tenants”.
In spite of the success of many businesses adapting to working from home, other sectors, such as hospitality, entertainment and travel, suffered huge losses. In contrast to past lockouts, there is no longer a furlough job support program.
According to a recent survey by Savanta ComRes, some people might be less willing to adhere to new restrictions following the revelations about the Downing Street party. Johnson has apologized for a leaked video showing senior staff discussing how to explain a gathering in Downing Street during a Christmas Covid-19 lockdown last year.
The prime minister added that Covid restrictions cannot last forever and that the nation may need to “converse” about what to do when a substantial portion of the population refuses vaccination.