Home Breaking News Omicron ‘tsunami’ is about to hit UK: Super-mutant cases jump 54% in...

Omicron ‘tsunami’ is about to hit UK: Super-mutant cases jump 54% in a day

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Fears Britain will be stung by even tougher restrictions before Christmas because of Omicron grew today as the number of cases of the super-mutant jumped by 54 per cent in a day and overall daily Covid infections breached levels not seen since the UK’s devastating second wave.

Nicola Sturgeon today warned of an impending ‘tsunami’ triggered by the highly-transmissible variant, based on grisly data suggesting Omicron could become completely dominant in Scotland within days. Cases north of the border have doubled in a week.

In the face of the ever-worsening threat, she announced entire families in Scotland will have to self-isolate for 10 days if one member of the household tests positive for coronavirus to help tackle the strain and keep a lid on the impending crisis.

Meanwhile, UK-wide statistics showed cases have risen by 15 per cent in a week to 58,194 — making it the highest daily toll since the darkest depths of January, when Britain was being battered by the Alpha variant but had yet to dish out any vaccines.

Hospitalisations crept up by six per cent on last week but deaths fell by around 16 per cent over the same time-frame. Both measures are just a fraction of the level seen during previous waves because of the success of jabs but will rise over the coming weeks because of a delay between getting infected and becoming seriously ill.

Health chiefs today recorded another 448 cases of Omicron, taking the official toll to 1,265. The true toll will be much higher because not every sample is rigorously analysed in a lab. 

Separate estimates suggest the real toll could be more than 4,000 cases per day based on evidence showing the strain is already making up nearly 13 per cent of new infections. 

It came as reports emerged that the UK Government is already working on a ‘Plan C’ of Covid restrictions, just days after Boris Johnson triggered his ‘Plan B’.  

But No10 insists it has ‘no plans’ for a Plan C or a circuit breaker lockdown over Christmas. The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: ‘We think the Plan B measures are the right approach and strike the right balance.’ 

And promising Government data released tonight revealed booster Covid jabs offer up to 75 per cent protection against mild illness caused by the variant.

Public Health Scotland estimates the new variant will be dominant next week, accounting for more than 50 per cent of all Covid cases, and make almost all new infections by the end of the year

51603023 10295777 image a 18 1639156036983 51601821 10295777 image a 16 1639154595826 51601429 10295777 image a 2 1639153926115 51601433 10295777 image a 4 1639153939841 Omicron makes up 13.3 per cent of Covid cases in Scotland and is doubling every two to three days

Omicron makes up 13.3 per cent of Covid cases in Scotland and is doubling every two to three days

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The above map shows the ten areas that have the most confirmed Omicron cases in England, according to the UK Health Security Agency. West Northamptonshire is the country’s hotspot for the mutant strain, although eight in ten areas on the list are in London

There are currently 1,265 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK so far but thousands are said to be flying under the radar because not all positive samples are analysed

There are currently 1,265 confirmed cases of Omicron in the UK so far but thousands are said to be flying under the radar because not all positive samples are analysed

The above map shows % change in Covid cases across the capital over the previous seven-day spell, to November 27. Cases were rising in all boroughs at this time as well, but not at the same rate as they are currently The above map shows the % change in Covid cases in different areas of London over the week to December 4, the latest available. It reveals that cases are rising in all boroughs. Public health chiefs say they are taking the situation 'extremely seriously' as it is confirmed that Omicron may have spread to every borough

The above map shows the % change in Covid cases in different areas of London over the weeks ending November 27 (left) and to December 4 (right), the latest available. It reveals that cases are rising in all boroughs. Public health chiefs say they are taking the situation ‘extremely seriously’ as it is confirmed that Omicron may have spread to every borough

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Confidential UK Health Security Agency data showed that Omicron may now be behind 8.5 per cent of infections. The figures are based on the proportion of PCR tests failing to detect a specific gene, an early indicator of the variant. PCRs look for three genes to confirm a Covid infection, but with Omicron one is so mutated that they only pick up two of them

A Pfizer booster provides between 70 and 75 per cent protection against mild Omicron illness, regardless of which vaccine was originally used, compared to 90 per cent for Delta. Two doses of Pfizer may offer just 37 per cent protection after three-and-a-half months compared to 60 per cent for Delta. Two shots of AstraZeneca offered virtually no protection after the same amount of time. But the scientists caution that data for AstraZeneca was less reliable due to the fact the vaccine was restricted in some age groups and typically used at the very start of the initial vaccine rollout in vulnerable people

A Pfizer booster provides between 70 and 75 per cent protection against mild Omicron illness, regardless of which vaccine was originally used, compared to 90 per cent for Delta. Two doses of Pfizer may offer just 37 per cent protection after three-and-a-half months compared to 60 per cent for Delta. Two shots of AstraZeneca offered virtually no protection after the same amount of time. But the scientists caution that data for AstraZeneca was less reliable due to the fact the vaccine was restricted in some age groups and typically used at the very start of the initial vaccine rollout in vulnerable people

The new face mask rules that came into force today Boris Johnson visiting his newborn daughter in hospital yesterday

The first part of the Government’s Plan B came into force today with the introduction of compulsory face masks in indoor settings such as theatres, cinemas and churches. Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that ministers hope the measures will be enough to ‘slow the spread’ of the Omicron variant while more booster jabs are rolled out

The great Christmas exodus from the office began hours after Boris Johnson announced his Omicron Plan B with Tube and bus travel down and road traffic also plunging to its lowest level since October, MailOnline can reveal today

The great Christmas exodus from the office began hours after Boris Johnson announced his Omicron Plan B with Tube and bus travel down and road traffic also plunging to its lowest level since October, MailOnline can reveal today

Up to 4,000 Britons are catching Omicron each day: Scotland’s Covid cases DOUBLE in a week to three-month high amid fears mutant variant will become dominant in DAYS

As many as 4,000 Britons may be catching Omicron every day with the super-variant on track to replace Delta in in a matter of days, official data suggests — as the mutant pushes Scotland’s Covid cases to a three-month high.

The highly-evolved virus is now behind 8.5 per cent of coronavirus cases across the UK and is doubling every two to three days, according to an analysis of UK Health Security Agency data.

With an average 48,000 Britons testing positive for Covid every day, it suggests more than 4,000 of them are the new Omicron variant — even though fewer than 1,000 cases have been confirmed. 

Scotland, which along with London has become one of the UK’s Omicron hotspots, today reported 5,018 positive Covid tests which is the highest number in three months and double the number a week ago. 

The mutant strain makes up 13 per cent, or one in eight, of overall cases in Scotland.

Public health chiefs expect it to outstrip Delta nationally by Christmas, with its rapid spread prompting No10 to resort to its Plan B strategy. 

A senior member of the Government’s scientific advisory group SAGE yesterday warned that Omicron was spreading even faster in the UK than it is in South Africa — where cases have rocketed 10-fold in a fortnight. 

The latest coronavirus developments came as:

  • Ministers insisted they are ‘trying to get the balance right between not shutting the economy down’ and protecting against coronavirus by rolling out ‘Plan B’ restrictions. 
  • Scotland recorded 19 coronavirus-linked deaths and 5,018 cases recorded in the past 24 hours. Cases of the new Covid-19 variant could reach just shy of 25,000 a day before the end of the month, a Scottish Government evidence paper said. 
  •  Sir Keir Starmer said Labour will support the rollout of ‘Plan B’ in a House of Commons vote next week because ‘in this pandemic we have always put the public interest and public health first and that’s what we’ll do next week in supporting these measures’. 
  • Downing Street said it was up to individual businesses to decide whether Christmas parties should go ahead as Number 10 cancelled its own gathering.

Omicron currently makes up 13.3 per cent of Covid cases already in Scotland, which has become a hotspot for the super-strain along with London, but it’s doubling every two days. Scotland today reported 5,018 positive Covid tests, which is the highest number in three months and double the number a week ago. 

Nicola Sturgeon announced entire families in Scotland will have to self-isolate for 10 days if one member of the household tests positive for coronavirus to help tackle the strain as she warned it posed a ‘severe challenge’.

The Scottish First Minister said that as of tomorrow ‘all household contacts of any confirmed Covid case should isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status and even if they initially get a negative PCR test’. 

Ms Sturgeon said she knew this would not be ‘easy’ and that there will be ‘careful exemptions for critical services’. However, she insisted the move is ‘essential at this moment’ because of the rapid spread of the new variant.

The SNP leader said non-household contacts of a positive case should continue to self-isolate, pending a PCR test and if that test is negative they can leave isolation as long as they are double-jabbed.   

Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon also urged people in Scotland to defer work Christmas parties as she said limiting ‘unnecessary contacts’ is the ‘sensible’ thing to do to slow transmission of the disease.

Ms Sturgeon told a coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh at lunchtime that as of yesterday at 5pm there were 110 confirmed Omicron cases in Scotland and 10 days ago the number was just nine. 

She warned the latest figure is likely to be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and the data suggests the current spread of Omicron represents the ‘fastest exponential growth that we have seen in this pandemic so far’. 

Ms Sturgeon said the number of Omicron cases is doubling every two to three days and the variant could overtake Delta as the dominant strain ‘within days’.

She said the R number in Scotland – the average number of secondary infections produced by a single infected person – had been ‘hovering’ around one in recent weeks but the R number for Omicron is ‘likely to be well over two and possibly closer to three’ which could result in a ‘rapid rise’ in cases in the days ahead. 

‘The fact is we do face a renewed and very severe challenge in the face of of the new Omicron variant, ‘ she said. 

‘To be blunt, because of the much greater and faster transmissibility of this new variant, we may be facing – indeed we may be starting to experience – a potential tsunami of infections.’ 

Scotland, which along with London has become one of the UK's Omicron hotspots, today reported 5,018 positive Covid tests, which is the highest number in three months and double the number a week ago. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today told Scots to brace for a 'tsunami' of infections, as she warned the new super-variant posed a 'severe challenge'

Scotland, which along with London has become one of the UK’s Omicron hotspots, today reported 5,018 positive Covid tests, which is the highest number in three months and double the number a week ago. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today told Scots to brace for a ‘tsunami’ of infections, as she warned the new super-variant posed a ‘severe challenge’

Omicron is in almost in every region of England and is expected to be dominant in the whole of the UK by Christmas

Omicron is in almost in every region of England and is expected to be dominant in the whole of the UK by Christmas

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SCOTLAND: Covid hospitalisations have been tumbling downwards since September, with just 38 patients hospitalised on Sunday, compared to 87 one month earlier

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ENGLAND: Some 799 Covid-infected patients were hospitalised on Tuesday, the most recent day figures are available for. Hosptitalisations had been flat in England but appear to be creeping upwards upwards

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SCOTLAND: Daily Covid deaths have been falling in Scotland, with an average of nine fatalities per day within 28 days of a positive test in the week up to December 1. Zero deaths were recorded on Wednesday, the most recent date figures are available for, but this may be adjusted upwards in the coming days due to registration days

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ENGLAND: Covid fatalities in England have been trending downwards, with 90 daily deaths recorded in the week to December 1. Some 21 deaths were registered on Wesnesday, but the figure will likely go up in the coming days due to recording delays

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The UKHSA found that cases rose in 90 per cent of local authorities last week in England. It comes amid the spread of the Omicron variant

The above graph shows Covid cases in London. They are starting to tick up as the more transmissible Omicron variant begins to spread in the capital

The above graph shows Covid cases in London. They are starting to tick up as the more transmissible Omicron variant begins to spread in the capital

But hospitalisations in the city are yet to tick up and remain level with around 110 new admissions recorded every day on average, according to the latest data. But in a sign of what could be to come on December 7, the latest available, there were 148 admissions which was a 40 per cent rise on the same time last week

But hospitalisations in the city are yet to tick up and remain level with around 110 new admissions recorded every day on average, according to the latest data. But in a sign of what could be to come on December 7, the latest available, there were 148 admissions which was a 40 per cent rise on the same time last week

The number of PCR tests carried out in London has risen 15 per cent in a week but the positivity rate ¿ the number that detect the virus ¿ has remained level suggesting there is a real-terms surge in cases. The above graph shows the number of lateral flow tests completed which has remained level so far

The number of PCR tests carried out in London has risen 15 per cent in a week but the positivity rate — the number that detect the virus — has remained level suggesting there is a real-terms surge in cases. The above graph shows the number of lateral flow tests completed which has remained level so far

Boosters DO beat Omicron and cut risk of falling ill by 75% 

Booster Covid jabs offer up to 75 per cent protection against mild disease caused by the super Omicron variant, official UK Government analysis revealed tonight.

Experts are confident that three doses will offer significantly higher immunity against severe illness and death from the highly-evolved strain.

In people who had their second dose more than three months ago, effectiveness against symptomatic disease could be lower than 40 per cent, according to the real-world analysis.

But officials stress that even two vaccines should still offer high protection against severe illness, in the most promising sign yet that the incoming wave of hospital admissions and deaths will not surpass previous peaks.  

The UK Health Security Agency looked at 581 people with confirmed Omicron and compared their vaccine status to a control group of people who tested positive for Delta.  

It estimated that a Pfizer booster provides between 70 and 75 per cent protection against mild Omicron illness, regardless of which vaccine was originally used, compared to 90 per cent for Delta.

Two doses of Pfizer may offer just 37 per cent protection after three-and-a-half months compared to 60 per cent for Delta. 

Two shots of AstraZeneca offered virtually no protection after the same amount of time.

But the scientists caution that data for AstraZeneca was less reliable due to the fact the vaccine was restricted in some age groups and typically used at the very start of the initial vaccine rollout in vulnerable people.

She added: ‘Indeed, I think we can now say with some confidence that we expect it to overtake Delta within days, not weeks – we estimate this could be as early as the very beginning of next week.’

The highly-evolved variant is now behind 8.5 per cent of the UK’s coronavirus cases compared to just four per cent at the start of the week, according to an analysis of UK Health Security Agency data.

Scotland — where it’s feared Omicron was seeded during the Cop26 climate change summit in early November — and London are being hit hardest by Omicron but the strain has been detected in every country in the UK and nearly every region.

The UK Government is already considering a tougher ‘Plan C’ to tackle Omicron which could see care homes slapped with fresh restrictions in the run up to Christmas and masks made compulsory in pubs and restaurants.

Controversial vaccine passports could also be extended to more venues as part of the contingency measures being floated within Downing Street if the Omicron super variant proves to be as dangerous as scientists fear. 

A UK Government source said it was ‘very likely’ care home residents could be banned from seeing more than three visitors over the festive period to prevent another explosive outbreak in the sector.

But campaign groups warned the plans could be ‘devastating’ and ‘heartbreaking’, with many families forced to pick loved ones on what could be their last Christmas. 

Other curbs in a ‘Plan C’ could include having to ‘check in’ with the NHS Covid app again to go to a pub or restaurant, using face masks in all indoor spaces, and having to show a vaccine passport at even more venues.

The first part of the Government’s Plan B came into force today with the introduction of compulsory face masks in indoor settings such as theatres, cinemas and churches. New work-from-home guidance will come into effect on Monday, and MPs will vote on Tuesday on the introduction of vaccine passports for nightclubs and large venues.

Labour has said it will support the rollout of Plan B, despite a suggestion that many opposition MPs could vote down the measures in protest against ongoing accusations that Number 10 held a number of lockdown-breaking parties last winter.

But backbench Tory MPs have told MailOnline that the Government could face its biggest mutiny yet, with at least 60 Conservative MPs expected to defy the government whip and vote down the plans. 

Ms Sturgeon announced two new interventions at lunchtime in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant: Tougher isolation rules and strengthened guidance to defer Christmas parties. 

‘Given that Omicron is now becoming dominant, our response to it has to become more general because it will quickly be the case that most people who have Covid have the Omicron variant and we must do all we can in that context to break the transmission chains,’ she said. 

‘Therefore from tomorrow our advice will be that all household contacts of any confirmed Covid case should isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status and even if they initially get a negative PCR test.

‘I know that this is not easy and we will obviously keep it under review. We will also ensure careful exemptions for critical services.

‘But we believe this to be essential at this moment to help slow transmission. Non-household contacts should continue to isolate pending a PCR result. If that is negative they can leave isolation at that point as long as they are double vaccinated.’

Public Health Scotland yesterday published new advice on work Christmas parties and Ms Sturgeon urged Scots to follow it. 

‘This is not easy advice to give or to hear but it is incumbent on public health experts to set out very clearly and frankly the risks we face and it is incumbent on me and government to pay attention to that advice,’ she said. 

What can England expect? Public Health Scotland tells people to CANCEL Christmas and New Year parties due to fears over rising Omicron cases

Public Health Scotland has told people they should delay Christmas parties and Hogmanay celebrations due to fears over the rising number of Omicron cases in the country.

A total of 108 cases of the mutant Covid strain were reported in Scotland between November 1 and December 8, with official figures showing nearly half of all positive tests are in the 20-39 age bracket. 

Dr Nick Phin, the director of public health science and medical director at Public Health Scotland, has now urged families to put off any planned Christmas and Hogmanay celebrations to help in the battle against the raging variant. 

He said: ‘To help minimise the further spread of Covid-19, and Omicron in particular, I would strongly urge people to defer their Christmas parties to another time.’

Last year’s celebrations were also cancelled because of rising cases, with Ms Sturgeon suggesting that the public ‘should ring in 2021 in our own homes’. 

Latest Scottish Government figures also show there were 16 coronavirus deaths and 3,196 cases recorded within the past 24 hours.

It brought Scotland’s Covid death toll, under the daily measure of people who first tested positive within the previous 28 days, to 9,688.  

In a plea to Scotland residents, Dr Phin said: ‘There is much that we still need to learn about Omicron, but early evidence suggests that this new Covid variant is much more transmissible.

‘The impact of this transmissibility has been seen in recent weeks, with a number of Omicron outbreaks linked to parties.

‘We still need to learn more about the severity of disease caused by Omicron and the effectiveness of vaccines, but there are important things that we can do to help protect ourselves and our families now.

‘I appreciate that everyone is keen to celebrate this festive season, particularly after the pressures of the last 20 months, but by postponing some plans we can all do our bit to protect ourselves and our loved ones.’

‘There is a significant risk with Omicron and we are already seeing the reality of it, of Christmas parties or events with lots of people becoming super-spreaders.

‘If that happens, lots of people get infected and if these are work events as well as the risk to individual health there is a risk to the ability of the workplace to operate as people have to isolate.’

She added: ‘The public health advice, which I have no alternative but to agree with given the evidence of risk that I know about and have now shared with you, is that we should all think a bit more carefully about unnecessary contacts, especially in crowded places just now and that it would be sensible to defer work Christmas parties.’

Ms Sturgeon said that while evidence suggests Omicron can evade some immunity given by vaccines, people should still get jabbed. 

‘Based on preliminary laboratory trials, the best evidence suggests it can evade to some extent the immunity conferred by vaccination,’ she said. 

‘Now, and I want to triple underline this point, that does not mean that the vaccines will not significantly help us – being less effective is not the same, nowhere near the same, as vaccines being ineffective and booster doses in particular will help retain a higher level of vaccine efficiency.’

Ms Sturgeon said the greater transmissibility of the new variant represents a threat to the NHS even if the strain is found to be less severe than its predecessors. 

She said that ‘a smaller percentage of a bigger number will still result in a massive number of cases who might need hospital care’.

She added: ‘Given the volume of people who could be infected by Omicron because of its greater transmissibility, even if most of those cases are mild, the number of cases of serious illness will put massive strain on the ability of the NHS to cope.’ 

Ms Sturgeon also said she cannot rule out further restrictions being put in place in Scotland as a result of the Omicron variant. 

Ministers are hoping the Government’s ‘Plan B’ will be enough to slow the spread of Omicron in England while more booster jabs are administered. 

But as shops, pubs and restaurants warn of the millions they face losing at their busiest time of year under the new measures, officials are already working on another back-up strategy. 

The looming threat of tighter restrictions in the run-up to Christmas, which has echoes of this time last year, come amid fury at Mr Johnson’s decision to impose ‘Plan B’ measures yesterday, on the same day that he tried to grapple with the fallout of the Downing Street Christmas party scandal.

He is set to face a ‘war’ with his backbenchers when the measures are voted on next week. They reacted furiously to the planned introduction of vaccine passports next week – and took aim at the ‘conflicting’ guidance on working from home and socialising, with no official advice to cancel festive parties. 

A source told The Telegraph that it is ‘highly likely’ care homes will once again be hit by restrictions, with ministers looking at limiting the number of visitors to three.

The move would reportedly come in time for Christmas to limit the amount of mixing in homes during the festive period.

But the plans have been slammed by campaign groups, who say they will force families to make ‘devastating’ decisions about who gets to see loved ones on possibly their last Christmas.

Rights for Residents told the newspaper: ‘It just takes us back to where we were many months ago, and the impact it will have on families will be devastating.

‘It’s absolutely heartbreaking for families to have to choose who can visit them. How do you pick those three people?’

Mr Johnson is facing a Tory rebellion next week when the ‘Plan B’ rules will be voted on in the House of Commons. 

At least 50 Tories have publicly expressed concerns, and a senior Conservative said Mr Johnson needed to ‘get a grip’.   

Ringleaders have told MailOnline that it will be the biggest mutiny faced by the PM yet, with at least 60 expected to defy the government whip.    

Backbencher Marcus Fysh said on Thursday that the latest curbs are an ‘utter disgrace’, while former chief whip Mark Harper has questioned whether the government has the moral authority to impose the limits given the row over rules being flouted in Downing Street. 

Under-40s are being invited for Covid boosters in defiance of guidelines as NHS faces demands to loosen advice and allow EVERYONE to book online 

Under-40s are getting Covid boosters in defiance of NHS guidelines, it was revealed today.

Officials have yet to officially start inviting younger adults, despite huge pressure to ramp up the booster roll-out and save the nation from even tougher restrictions over Christmas.  

But GPs involved in the scheme have began texting thirty-somethings, inviting them to make appointments. Some claim to have been able to get scheduled in within 36 hours. 

Currently only over-40s can use the online booking system to pencil in a top-up jab, yet plans are in pace to expand the programme to all eligible adults next week.   

Anyone given their second jab three months ago can get a walk-in booster, even if they are under-40 and can’t officially book. And those who were last vaccinated six months ago, the original gap between doses, will still be invited through the normal channels, regardless of their age. 

The online booking system, only opened to over-40s this week, has already been hit by chaos, with dozens of eligible adults turned away even though they had managed to book a top-up jab because of a communications blunder.  

NHS bosses last night launched a crack down to get a grip of the scheme, which No10 has vowed to put ‘on steroids’ to fight off the oncoming Omicron wave.  

 

There was a further setback when the NHS Covid pass website crashed for several hours last night.   

In signs of Cabinet tensions, Sajid Javid yesterday dismissed a hint from the PM that mandatory vaccination might be looked at in future, saying that would be ‘ethically wrong’.

And the Health Secretary revealed that he refused to continue with a scheduled round of broadcast interviews on Wednesday because he was ‘upset’ by the bombshell video of No10 aides giggling about an alleged lockdown-busting festive gathering last year. 

The scale of the damage to the Tories from the partying revelations, which followed the Westminster sleaze row, has been underlined with a poll showing 63 per cent of voters think the PM should resign. 

Labour also had a four-point lead in the Redfield & Wilton poll, the largest since the 2019 general election. 

On Wednesday, Mr Johnson announced a sudden shift in the Government’s approach to tackling coronavirus, with an extension of mask-wearing from Thursday, a return to working from home on Monday and mandatory Covid passports for large venues from Wednesday.

The move provoked a barrage of Tory criticism, fuelled by suspicions the measures were introduced as an attempt to distract from the Prime Minister’s troubles over an alleged staff party in Downing Street during last December’s lockdown.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, a senior member of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, said Mr Johnson must ‘get a grip’ or risk losing the backing of his party.

He warned the PM that if his ‘bad month’ – which also saw fury over Tory sleaze – continued in the New Year, ‘then I think there would be a serious change of mind of giving him the benefit of the doubt’.

The scale of the Tory revolt means Mr Johnson may have to rely on Opposition support if his Plan B measures are to clear the Commons on Tuesday. Labour has said it will back the regulations, while the Liberal Democrats will support working from home but not vaccine passports.

A senior Tory source warned: ‘I think we will get it through with Opposition support, but there will be such a bloodbath within our party when the dissatisfaction sets in.’

Tory MP David Warburton labelled Plan B ‘confused, contradictory, arbitrary and wholly disproportionate’, adding: ‘This insanity needs to end.’ The new measures will not stop colleagues meeting at a pub to work, and officials suggested an exemption on face-covering rules would allow people to remove their masks in shops or cinemas to sing.

Tory Greg Smith said: ‘Go to the pub, but don’t go to work, wear a mask when shopping (unless you want to sing)… where will this end?’

Mansfield MP Ben Bradley branded vaccine passports ‘ineffective and discriminatory’, and said he could not ‘vote for restrictions ‘just in case’ at a time when hospitalisations and deaths are falling’.

Asked whether Tory rebels will be putting lives at risk, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘The advice that we have received is without action – given the incredibly fast growth rate of this variant – the consequences, in terms of hospitalisations and deaths, could be severe.’ 

Sir Keir today said that Labour will vote in favour of the ‘Plan B’ measures. He said: ‘Obviously, we’re being urged to vote against them – because there’s a rebellion on the Government side.

‘But in this pandemic we have always put the public interest and public health first and that’s what we’ll do next week in supporting these measures.’

He said his party would decline the temptation of trying to take political advantage of any Tory rebellion.

‘I think that’s the wrong thing to do in a pandemic because it’s very important the Labour Party acts in the national interest,’ he said.

‘Having listened to the medical advisers, I am convinced that in the national interest we should support these measures, and therefore that’s what we will do.’

Several Cabinet ministers, including Kwasi Kwarteng, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Grant Shapps, are understood to feel Plan B is unnecessary at this point. 

Tory former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the Cabinet was ‘full of scaredy-cats’ who panic rather than resist fresh curbs.

Questioned in a round of interviews on Thursday morning over whether it makes sense to instruct staff to work from home but go to parties and other social events, Mr Javid said: ‘I think it is proportionate, actually, when you look at these measures, whether it is the working-from-home guidance, the rules around face masks, the NHS Covid pass, and all of these.

‘It is a real sort of spectrum of response that you can have.

‘It could be guidance, you could have Covid passes clearly in more settings, you could have face masks in more settings, but you have to take a balanced decision that takes into account a number of factors and, of course, the key here is to slow the spread of the new variant, and these measures will help do that.’

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We, of course, keep them under review, but they will have a significant impact in slowing the spread of the variant.’

Economic experts have criticised the restrictions ahead of the crucial pre-Christmas period, warning they could cost the economy £4billion a month and ‘easily’ knock two per cent off the size of the economy. 

The hospitality industry said Plan B will kill off festive trade – a period when pubs, nightclubs and restaurants make a third of their annual profits. There are calls for a return to furlough and cash grants for restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars.

Clive Wilson, Chairman of The City Pub Company, said together with rising energy costs and other pressures he expected to price of a pint to rise by around 40p.

‘For restaurants and the late night economy – a third of your profit is made in December. People have described this as a body blow – it’s more than that – it’s taking off the life support machine yet again,’ he said.

‘And I notice that the Chancellor is not providing any further state aid. ‘The current state aid is not enough. Please please give us that enhanced state aid to help us get through those leaner months otherwise a lot of businesses in our sector will run out of cash.’ 

The current rate of the booster rollout means Britain will miss the deadline to offer every eligible adult a Covid booster shot by the end January, instead hitting this target by 10 February

The current rate of the booster rollout means Britain will miss the deadline to offer every eligible adult a Covid booster shot by the end January, instead hitting this target by 10 February

According to NHS data, many older age groups who have been eligible to get a Covid booster since September still have double digit percentage figures of people who are yet to get a third dose. Yesterday, the NHS online booking system for Covid boosters was opened up to the over 40s. 81 per cent of people aged 40-to-49 have yet to have a booster.

According to NHS data, many older age groups who have been eligible to get a Covid booster since September still have double digit percentage figures of people who are yet to get a third dose. Yesterday, the NHS online booking system for Covid boosters was opened up to the over 40s. 81 per cent of people aged 40-to-49 have yet to have a booster. 

Economic experts also criticised the move ahead of the crucial pre-Christmas period, warning they could cost the economy £4 billion a month and ‘easily’ knock 2 per cent off the size of the economy.  

Lord Sugar tweeted that the Prime Minister must be removed from office, saying: ‘Plan B. Boris is mental. Work from home but you can go to nightclubs and football matches if you are double vax. The man must go. Correct me if I am wrong but I have not heard of any one who had to go to hospital with this new strain let alone die. Small BIZ will collapse’.

Road congestion in London was on Thursday at its lowest level of the week so far for the morning rush hour, with TomTom data giving a figure of 68 per cent between 8am and 9am this morning.

This was down from 75 per cent yesterday, 79 per cent on Tuesday and 69 per cent on Monday for the same time period. It was also down on Thursday of last week, which was 73 per cent. 

TomTom data also revealed that Thursday saw the lowest congestion on a midweek day of Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday since the start of November.

It was last at such a low level when Thursday, November 4 had the same figure as Thursday of 68 per cent.

The midweek day analysis is important because in recent months many workers have been working from home on Mondays and Fridays but going into the office from Tuesday to Thursday.

The congestion level represents the extra travel time for drivers on average compared to baseline uncongested conditions – so a 68 per cent level means a 30-minute trip will take 20 minutes more than with no traffic.

In the Commons last night, Mr Harper said the evidence on the spread of Omicron, which has yet to hospitalise a single person in the UK, simply ‘doesn’t support the introduction of these measures’.

He told MPs: ‘Over the past couple of weeks the Government’s credibility, whether it’s on Paterson or on the Christmas parties, has taken a hit. 

‘Why should people at home, listening to the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary, do things that people working in No10 are not prepared to do?’

Fellow Tory Philip Davies criticised the ‘latest in a long line of arbitrary, unnecessary, socialist measures’ and suggested Mr Javid had ‘gone native’.

The Covid clampdown came just hours after the PM issued a rare apology over a leaked video that showed his former press secretary Allegra Stratton and other No10 aides appearing to laugh and joke about the alleged Christmas party during a mock press conference. 

No 10 said that it was ‘categorically untrue’ to suggest the move to Plan B had been accelerated to divert attention from the disastrous coverage of alleged rule-breaking by the PM’s staff. 

Brits start staying at home as Plan B begins: Public transport use has dipped 5% after Boris’s announcement 

The great Christmas exodus from the office began hours after Boris Johnson announced his Omicron Plan B with Tube and bus travel down and road traffic also plunging to its lowest level since October, MailOnline can reveal today.

The number of people using London’s Underground is down 5% compared to last week despite the Prime Minister’s work from home diktat not kicking in until Monday.

TomTom traffic data shows today is the quietest Friday rush hour between 7am and 8am on the capital’s roads since October 29 – when London’s schools were on half term.  

It came as masks must be worn in more places including cinemas, theatres and churches as measures are tightened in England in a bid to slow the spread of the latest coronavirus variant – but a ‘bonkers’ exemption means you can take it off anywhere to sing.

Tougher restrictions have been branded a ‘necessary evil’ by a scientist advising the Government, who said the new approach ‘absolutely is not an overreaction’.

But clearly office workers are already staying away, in more bad news for shops and the hospitality sector who rely on their Christmas spending.

The return to working from home in London has been gathering momentum this week – with commuters already avoiding going into the office before the Plan B government guidance officially begins from next Monday, according to new transport data.

London Underground usage has been falling steadily throughout this week compared to last week, with a drop during the morning rush hour yesterday of 5 per cent compared to the previous Thursday.

The number of commuters using the Tube across the capital is now at 56 per cent of normal pre-pandemic levels, with 1,310,460 entries and exits up to 10am yesterday. Usage has fallen steadily throughout this week when compared to the previous week, with passenger numbers down 3 per cent on Wednesday, 2 per cent on Tuesday and 1 per cent on Monday.

The number of people using the bus is also falling, with this down 2 per cent to 1,240,700 yesterday morning, compared to the same period on Thursday last week.

However this is a far more resilient figure compared to pre-pandemic levels, equating to 74 per cent of normal usage. Part of the reason for this is that buses are used by many lower-paid workers and children on their way to school.

Bus usage has also been falling throughout the week, with the figure down 2 per cent week-on-week on Wednesday, and 1 per cent on Tuesday. It was unchanged on Monday.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10295777/No10s-Plan-C-fight-Omicron-limit-care-home-visits-Christmas.html