Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a series of measures aimed at helping to slow the spread of the virus and buy some time to get yet more boosters into arms, especially in older and more vulnerable people, and understand the key questions about the Omnicron variant.
In summary, from Monday, the government is reintroducing the guidance to work from home, to reduce workplace contact. In other words, you should work from home if you can. Employers should use the rest of the week to discuss arrangements with their employees.
And from Friday, the legal requirement to wear a face mask will be extended to most public indoor venues, including theatres and cinemas. There will be exemptions for where it is not practical such as when eating, drinking, exercising or singing.
NHS COVID Pass will become mandatory for entry into nightclubs and venues where large crowds gather, including unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 people.
The NHS COVID Pass can be obtained with two doses of the COVID vaccines, but this will be kept under review as the booster programme is rolled out. And following clinical advice, a negative Lateral Flow Test (LFT) will also be sufficient.
Other measures include the introduction of daily tests for contacts instead of isolation in order to minimise disruption to daily lives. And steps will be taken to ensure that the NHS is prepared for the challenges ahead.
Scientists believe the Omicron variant could spread more easily than the Delta variant and could soon become the dominant variant in the UK. But much is still unknown, and it could still take weeks to understand potentially how severe the illness could be from the variant and what it means for the effectiveness of vaccines.
So a year to the date that the UK administered the first vaccine as part of a mass vaccination programme, the PM concluded by saying further decisions will be based on hard medical data collected around 4 key criteria:
- efficacy of vaccines and boosters
- the severity of the Omicron variant
- the speed of its spread
- the rate of hospitalisation