Plan B COVID restrictions will be eased, PM set to announce

UK

Boris Johnson is set to announce an easing of Plan B coronavirus restrictions in England.

The prime minister will go through the latest COVID-19 data on Wednesday morning with his ministers, before making a statement to MPs.

Mr Johnson’s Commons announcement comes as pressure continues to mount over parties and gatherings held in Downing Street and other government departments in 2020 and 2021.

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In full: PM denies lying over parties

There is speculation that a confidence vote in the PM’s leadership of his Conservative Party could soon be triggered by restive Tory MPs.

Plan B restrictions, which were introduced before Christmas amid the spread of the Omicron variant, include guidance to work from home, COVID passes and mandatory masks wearing in shops and on public transport.

They are due to expire on 26 January.

According to reports, the PM could opt to retain the mask-wearing requirement while scrapping the work from home guidance and COVID passes.

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“Decisions on the next steps remain finely balanced,” a government spokesman said ahead of the PM’s announcement.

“Plan B was implemented in December to slow the rapid spread of the extremely transmissible Omicron variant, and get more jabs in arms.

“It’s thanks to the phenomenal efforts of the NHS and many dedicated volunteers that we have now delivered over 36 million boosters to people across the UK.

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Omicron: Hospital admissions data ‘encouraging’

“The Omicron variant continues to pose a significant threat and the pandemic is not over.

“Infections remain high but the latest data is encouraging, with cases beginning to fall.

“Vaccines remain our best line of defence and we urge people to come forward, to give themselves the best possible protection.”

Asked on Tuesday if restrictions would be lifted next week, Mr Johnson said: “We’ve got to be careful about COVID. We’ve got to continue to remember that it’s a threat.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs that same day that he was “cautiously optimistic that we will be able to substantially reduce restrictions next week”.

Scotland will remove all of its Omicron coronavirus restrictions from next Monday.

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Sturgeon to lift Omicron restrictions next week

The changes will see nightclubs reopen, the requirement for table service in hospitality come to an end and attendance limits on indoor events lifted.

Latest UK figures show there were 19,450 people in hospital with COVID as of 17 January, which is down 2% week-on-week.

More than 34,000 people were in hospital with the virus at the peak of the second wave back in January 2021.

A further 94,432 lab-confirmed COVID cases were recorded in the UK as of 9am on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, another 438 people were reported to have died within 28 days of a positive test, taking the total since the pandemic began in 2020 to 152,513.

This figure is the highest daily total since last February, but Sky’s science correspondent Thomas Moore said a “large part” of this is due to reporting delays.

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