BORIS Johnson is poised to announce Plan B restrictions TODAY that will require Brits to work from home and use vaccine passports imminently.
Government sources told The Sun that the tough measures could take effect as early as tomorrow morning.
Senior Cabinet Ministers are meeting to rubber-stamp the changes that signal a fresh blow to hopes of a normal Christmas.
Only days ago the Government was urging Brits to press ahead with festive party plans and said they had no intention to push the panic button.
But rapidly rising cases of the mutation – and evidence vaccines may not be as effective – have bounced the PM into rapid action.
Scientists warn that up to 1,000 Brits each day could now be catching the highly contagious form of the virus — with new cases doubling every three days.
Downing St has said no decisions have yet been taken but refused to rule out Plan B restrictions today.
Asked if family and friends should still plan to see each other for Christmas, he said: "I think it's important that the public understand the restrictions are as set out.
"If there were changes necessitated by what we're learning about the variant we'll communicate that in the normal way."
He added any update would be given "in the normal way", prompting speculation of a press conference.
Under Plan B all but essential workers will be asked to work remotely like they did between March 2020 and last July's Freedom Day.
Vaccine passports – which the Government has been planning to introduce – will also be launched for large venues like football matches and nightclubs.
At the moment the definition of fully-vaccinated is two jabs rather than three.
Mandatory face masks – the third prong of the Government's Plan B – are already in force for shops and public transport after coming in last week to stem the rising tide of Omicron.
This will likely be extended to all "crowded and enclosed settings" to be determined.
It came as:
- Boris Johnson apologised after a video showed No10 staff joking about having a Christmas Party during Covid restrictions
- He said Omicron is spreading "faster than every variant we've seen before"
- Prof Neil Ferguson said a fourth lockdown cannot be ruled out
A senior official said it was likely the new measures would be introduced as early as tomorrow morning – but Downing St sources stressed "no decisions have been made".
Downing St has said before that MPs would be consulted on any new changes.
Lockdown-hating Tories have raged against the idea of vaccine passports but won't be able to block them if Labour supports the government.
They also want any measures ruled out after video emerged of No10 aides joking about holding an allegedly lockdown-breaking party last Christmas.
The Institute of Economic Affairs think tank has claimed Plan B would wipe £4billion of the UK economy each month.
And Prof Neil Ferguson, the scientist whose grim modelling prompted the initial lockdown, today warned a FOURTH squeeze can't be ruled out.
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The expert said this morning: "Clearly, if the consensus is it is highly likely that the NHS is going to be overwhelmed then it will be for the Government to decide what what he wants to do about that, but it’s a difficult situation to be in of course."
Pushed on whether lockdowns might be possible, he said: "It certainly might be possible at the current time."
Mr Johnson has so far kept faith in the booster programme and aims to offer all adults a third jab by January.
Yet gloomy early evidence is that our current crop of jabs are not as effective on Omicron.
The confirmed number of Omicron cases today rose to 568, but scientists fear the super-mutated variant is spreading more than three times faster than Delta, with many now estimating it could become the dominant strain within weeks.
🔵 Read our Omicron variant live blog for the latest news
Using UK Health Security Agency data, Professor Alastair Grant from the University of East Anglia calculates that up to one in 50 cases are now caused by Omicron — around 1,000 a day.
And he says the strain’s R rate, which measures the number of people infected by each case, could be as high as 3.47 — while the figure has been around 1.0 since August with Delta.
Prof Grant explained: “Numbers of Covid cases likely to be the Omicron variant are increasing rapidly in England.
"This gives a worst-case scenario of 2,500 cases so far.
“It is more effective at infecting people through a balance of escaping immunity and some increase in transmissibility.
“The biggest concern in the short term is pressure on hospitals because at the beginning of January those hospitals will already be having a hard time.”
Senior government scientists fear vaccines will do little to stop the bug transmitting between Brits, raising the likelihood of fresh restrictions.
Even if it is milder, Omicron will trigger a surge in infections that will likely feed through to increased hospital admissions and deaths.
It comes as NHS figures show hospital admissions in London and the South East have risen by a fifth in the past week due to Delta.
WHAT IS PLAN B?
What is Plan B?
Plan B is the Government's back-up plan for the winter months to deal with Covid.
It broadly involves:- Masks mandatory in certain settings- Working from home is advice again- Vaccine passports needed for big events like clubs.
Ministers will also communicate "clearly and urgently to the public that the level of risk has increased, and with it the need to behave more cautiously".
It's likely in the coming days we will see more communications, adverts and strategies to try and urge the public to change their behaviour.
But it's unlikely that it will involve any specific instructions to stay at home like the last lockdown.
Masks are already being reintroduced on public transport and in shops as part of the Government's omicron planning.
It's likely that these rules will be expanded to indoor hospitality, so Brits may have to cover up when entering ANY indoor setting.
Is there a Plan C?
Ministers have said they aren't afraid to go further if they need to.
But there are no more formal plans for what that will mean.
Ministers have repeatedly refused to say what further measures might be needed.
Scientists have suggested social distancing could return to help combat the new variant.
And Jenny Harries suggested people should cut down their social contacts too, but this is not thought to be government advice or in any plans at the moment.
But the total number of Brits in hospitals with Covid has fallen to 7,317 since it peaked at almost 9,700 on November 1.
The UK has reported its highest weekly number of new Covid cases since January.
Dr Jeffrey Barrett, a scientist tracking Omicron, said: “This variant is spreading faster in the UK than the Delta variant at the same time.
"It’s going to take over, probably in a matter of weeks.”
Professor Tim Spector, who runs the Covid Symptom Study, said Britain will likely have more cases than most countries in Africa before the end of the year.
Dominic Raab said: “We don’t think Plan B is required because of the success of the vaccine.”
The PM aims to reveal any new restrictions by December 16 before MPs break up for Christmas so Parliament can be consulted.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has ordered firms to work from home when possible until at least the middle of January.
And she repeated calls for people to take lateral flow tests every time they visit pubs or restaurants or other times they mix with others.
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