Boris Johnson is facing criticism after announcing that ‘Plan B’ measures to curb the spread of the Omicron variant will be introduced in England.
People will be asked to work from home, Covid passes are to become mandatory in large venues and rules on face coverings will be extended to combat the new highly transmissible strain, which is believed to have a doubling time of between two and three days.
The prime minister came under fire on Wednesday after a video of No 10 aides joking about a Christmas party on December 18, which allegedly broke London’s lockdown rules, was leaked to the press.
Mr Johnson apologised “for the impression that it [the footage] gives” and said he was “furious” to see the clip.
He is now facing anger from his own MPs, who have questioned whether Mr Johnson’s government has the credibility to enforce new restrictions while so many believe that they are not being followed in Downing Street.
Health secretary Sajid Javid was told to “resign” by senior Tory William Wragg as he outline the new restrictions in the House of Commons, at the same time the prime minister delivered a press briefing from Downing Street.
The row over the alleged Christmas bash has added to fears within the party that public support for the government has dwindled following the Owen Paterson affair.
Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper said: “What I am really concerned about is that it is unquestionably the case that over the last few weeks the government’s credibility, whether it is on Paterson or on the Christmas parties, has taken a hit.
“Why should people at home listening to the Prime Minster and the Secretary of State do things that people working in Number 10 Downing Street are not prepared to do?”
Mr Johnson denied suspicions he had brought forward the announcement on ‘Plan B’ measures to divert attention from the row.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned Omicron is spreading “rapidly” and it is possible hospital admissions from the new variant in England could exceed 1,000 per day – and still be increasing – by the end of the year.
Mr Javid said that there is likely to be an estimated 10,000 cases of Omicron in the UK currently – despite only 568 cases having been officially confirmed.
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