LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed tougher Covid restrictions in England on Wednesday, ordering people to work from home, wear masks in public places and use vaccine passes to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are free to set their own restrictions.
Undermined by accusations that his staff partied at Downing Street during a Christmas lockdown last year, Johnson said Omicron was spreading rapidly and he had no choice but to move to “Plan B” while a vaccine booster programme rolls out.
While still a long way from the full lockdowns imposed earlier in the pandemic, the new measures were described as a “hammer blow” for city centre restaurants, cafes and shops that are desperate for Christmas trade to rebuild their finances.
Many lawmakers in Johnson’s own party are also angry with the new restrictions, fearing the impact they will have after the economy 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 told a news conference.
Sterling fell sharply when news first emerged on Wednesday that ‘plan B’ measures were imminent and investors pared back their bets on a Bank of England interest rate hike next week. Johnson, who lifted most restrictions in England in July following a rapid vaccine rollout, had vowed to navigate the winter without resorting to a fourth lockdown, but had kept a so-called Plan B in reserve.
Part of those measures, such as reintroducing masks on public transport and in shops, had already been brought in, but on Wednesday Johnson said people should also now work from home.
Face masks will be required in public venues such as theatres and cinemas and a Covid pass will be mandatory for access to nightclubs and venues with large crowds.