Plan B

Covid Passes to be Scrapped Within Two Weeks

The Health Secretary has said Covid passes will be scrapped in England this month as the country’s Omicron wave continues to collapse. MailOnline has more

Sajid Javid is said to have told MPs [yesterday] that he shared their “instinctive discomfort” at the certificates, which 100 Tories voted against.

Ministers are also keen to ditch widespread working from home guidance when the current Plan B measures are reviewed on January 26th. It could mean that compulsory masks on public transport and in shops will be the only remaining curb.

Britain’s Covid cases have fallen week-on-week for the past eight days in a row, with 109,000 new positive tests on Thursday. Hospital admissions have also flatlined.

At a meeting with Tory MPs yesterday, Mr Javid hailed the “encouraging signs” – but warned that hospitals remained under “significant pressure”, the Times reports.

Currently, people in England need to show proof of vaccination or a negative lateral flow to enter large events and nightclubs.

A Whitehall source told the newspaper: “There was always a very high threshold for the policy and it looks increasingly likely in a couple of weeks that threshold won’t be met. The way cases are going it will be hard to justify renewing.”

Boris Johnson faced his biggest Tory revolt since the start of the pandemic over the introduction of Plan B measures last month, with nearly 100 Conservatives defying the party whip to vote against them.

The PM’s chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost dramatically resigned in protest over the rollout of the curbs. Yesterday he slammed the “Covid theatre” of masks and passes, and called lockdown a “serious mistake”.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has done a U-turn, announcing that all Covid restrictions will be lifted in Wales in two weeks in spite of describing England as an “outlier” last week because it had fewer restrictions than Wales. MailOnline has the story.

Mark Drakeford today confirmed all major coronavirus restrictions will be lifted in Wales in two weeks as he faced accusations of “overreacting” to the Omicron wave.

The Welsh Government will reopen nightclubs, end the rule of six in pubs and lift the 50-person limit on outdoor events.

Mr Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, had warned just one week ago on January 7th that the Omicron “storm is fully upon us” as he predicted the peak would not arrive for “another 10 to 14 days”.

He also slammed Boris Johnson’s decision not to impose similarly tough restrictions in England as he branded the neighbouring country an “outlier”.

But speaking this morning, Mr Drakeford said case numbers are now “coming down very rapidly” as he rejected accusations of a U-turn.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Sign this petition which specifically calls for mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport to be scrapped.

Stop Press 2: Daily cases have fallen below 100,000 in the U.K. for the first time since before Christmas. MailOnline has more.

Back to Normal by February?

Boris all but ruled out another lockdown in the House of Commons earlier and held out the prospect of a return “closer to normality” within weeks, hinting at the abandonment of ‘Plan B’ by February. MailOnline has more.

As the U.K. recorded another 194,747 cases – up 6.4% on a week ago – the PM cautioned that the growth is “the fastest we have ever known” and older, more vulnerable people are now being affected.

However, he said bluntly that the government “does not believe we need to shut down our country again”. Instead Cabinet has agreed to stick to the existing “balanced and proportionate” Plan B restrictions in England that are “taking the edge off” the Omicron wave.

The obligation to work from home where possible, as well as wear masks in many settings and use Covid passes at large events and nightclubs will be reviewed again before they expire on January 26th – but Mr. Johnson hinted strongly that they will not be renewed.

The premier was congratulated by senior Tories including Jeremy Hunt and Theresa May for holding his nerve despite pressure to clamp down before Christmas. In another boost, Nicola Sturgeon has U-turned by following England and cutting the self-isolation period in Scotland from 10 days to seven.

Challenged by another Conservative former minister, Steve Baker, in the House, Mr Johnson said he hoped that once Omicron “blows through” the country “life will return to something much, much closer to normality” and the current restrictions will “not be necessary”.

Worth reading in full.

No Need for New Restrictions, Says Government Minister

Current Covid data does not indicate a need for new restrictions, a Cabinet minister has said. The Telegraph has more.

Steve Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, indicated that stricter controls were unlikely to be introduced in the coming days, based on the latest hospitalisation and case figures.

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson is set to review the Plan B measures brought in last month, including rules mandating masks in almost all indoor public settings and requiring Covid passports for nightclubs and large events.

Government sources told the Telegraph last week that they were not expecting to repeal any of the Plan B restrictions yet, with adults in England set to be told to continue working from home if possible. The measures are set to roll over to the next review point on Jan 26th.

Senior Tories on Sunday said Plan B must not become a new normal, warning Mr Johnson that the Government must push to “get back to Plan A”.

Mr Barclay’s comments come as daily reported infections in England drop by 24% overnight, to 123,547 on January 2nd down from 162,572 on January 1st. Even taking into account it being a Sunday, when there are usually fewer infections reported, it is a considerable drop.

Brexit Minister Resigns in Protest of ‘Plan B’ Restrictions

Lord Frost has resigned from the Cabinet following the Government’s decision to introduce ‘Plan B’ restrictions. Writing to the Prime Minister, Frost accused Boris Johnson of breaking his promise to ensure that the re-opening of the country during the summer months was “irreversible”. The Telegraph has more.

Lord Frost quit the Cabinet on Saturday night over concerns about Boris Johnson’s Covid curbs and the Government’s “direction of travel”, as the Prime Minister considered calls for a third national lockdown beginning as soon as this week.

The Cabinet Office minister, who was leading Johnson’s post-Brexit negotiations with the European Union, resigned over the Government’s ‘Plan B’ Covid measures, having held private concerns for months about Covid restrictions and the Government’s economic policy, including its planned National Insurance hike. 

In his resignation letter, Frost reminded Johnson of his pledge that the lifting of restrictions in the summer would be “irreversible”. He also urged the Prime Minister to “deliver on the opportunities” of Brexit by moving “as fast as possible” to “a lightly regulated, low-tax, entrepreneurial economy”. 

The resignation of such a close ally creates a major new crisis for the Prime Minister. His concerns about the direction of the Government echo the views of many Tory backbenchers. 

One senior Tory backbencher said: “The trouble is Frost speaks for the party. This is the beginning of the end.” A senior minister said they were not at all surprised at Lord Frost quitting the Cabinet, adding: “I know he opposed ‘Plan B’. The Prime Minister’s supporters are the ones who are least keen on the restrictions. The ones who want to undermine him want the restrictions. Frost going just proves that.” 

Frost initially offered to resign earlier this month over Plan B, and had been persuaded to stay on until the New Year. He quit with immediate effect on Saturday night after news of his resignation leaked.

Frost’s resignation emerged as the Prime Minister was weighing up a “sliding scale” of new Covid restrictions, with Sajid Javid warning that ministers may have to introduce new measures on the basis of “early and patchy” data.

As the Government’s scientific advisers called for an “immediate” curtailment of indoor mixing to combat the spread of omicron, the Prime Minister was considering a range of potential measures, from new guidance on restricting social contact, to a third national lockdown.

Frost, a former adviser to Johnson during the Prime Minister’s time as Foreign Secretary, was among a series of Cabinet members opposed to new restrictions.

Worth reading in full.

‘Plan B’ Restrictions Risk Killing Public Music Venues, Charity Warns

The Music Venue Trust, a charitable organisation dedicated to securing the existence of public music venues across the U.K., has warned that the Government’s ‘Plan B’ measures represent a financial hammer blow, reporting that the industry has been put “back on red alert”. Likewise, the Night Time Industries Association, a trade union which represent nightclubs as well as live music venues, have expressed concern that the vaccine passport scheme, while not mandating that attendees be jabbed, will prove too much of a logistical, expensive, and time-consuming requirement. Complete Music Update has the story.

Other critics of the scheme are more concerned with logistical matters, in that they question how effective Covid Passport checks really are in restricting the spread of the virus, given the impact the scheme will have on affected businesses, in terms of instigating the checks and likely lost business.

That’s the position taken by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), which has repeatedly warned that forced Covid Passport checks will put a big strain on clubs and venues that are already struggling financially after nearly 18 months in partial or complete shutdown.

And, the NTIA argues, that has already been seen in Scotland and Wales, where Covid Passport schemes are already in force.

The trade group’s CEO Michael Kill said last night: “We are disappointed that MPs have today voted into law Covid Passports for nightclubs. The NTIA have consistently opposed their introduction due to the many logistical challenges they pose for night time economy businesses, and what we have seen in Scotland and Wales where they have dampened trade by 30% and 26% respectively”.

“It is very disappointing that, after flip flopping on the issue twice, the Government have decided to press ahead with the plans despite no evidence of their impact on transmission of the virus”, he added. “This is a slippery path we are going down. I would urge the government to listen to its backbenchers now – this far and no further”.

In addition to the specific new rules, representatives for the live music sector are also stressing that the rushed and confused communications that have been coming out of Government since the Omicron variant started to spread are causing as much – or possibly more – damage as the new regulations.

Not all venues in England will have to check Covid Passports. Although any venue or event classified as a nightclub will have to check for vaccine certificates and Covid tests, for gig venues the requirement kicks in at a 500 capacity for unseated venues and 10,000 for seated venues.

And, of course, some gig venues have already been requesting that customers show proof of vaccine or a negative Covid test since re-opening earlier this year.

But even those venues not directly affected by the new Covid Passport rule are reporting a significant downturn in business since Government communications began around omicron, which – of course – has come during a crucial time of the year for venues and night-time businesses.

Based on a survey of the Music Venues Alliance, the Music Venue Trust (MVT) reports that: “A catastrophic drop in attendance, advance ticket sales and spend per head has hit grassroots music venues since the Government announced the implementation of the ‘Plan B’ restrictions last Wednesday, placing the entire sector back on red alert for the risk of permanent closures”.

“Losses across the sector in this first week of this new phase of the Covid crisis hit nearly £2 million”, it adds, “with 86% of grassroots music venues reporting negative impacts and 61% having to cancel at least one event in the second week of December”.

Although artists – or a member of their crew – testing positive for Covid are behind just over a third of those cancellations, people cancelling private hire bookings and poor ticket sales – both as a result of renewed Covid concerns – were responsible for 31.13% and 23.6% of cancellations respectively.

Commenting on the findings of its latest survey of venues, MVT’s Beverley Whitrick says: “This is the busiest time of the year for grassroots music venues, representing more than 20% of their annual income being raised during the party season”.

“Rapid declines in attendance at this time of year represent an exponential threat to the whole sector”, she adds, “and losses of this magnitude cannot be sustained without throwing hundreds of music venues into crisis mode and at risk of permanent closure. A ‘no show’ isn’t just lost ticket income, it’s lost bar take and excess staff costs”.

Worth reading in full.

Sign These Five Petitions

Below is a list of five petitions, which are available to sign at petition.parliament.uk, that relate to repealing Government lockdown measures and vaccine mandates, as well as repeal the state’s political power to enact these restrictions. A link is provided next to the petition’s title that will take you directly to the appropriate page and URL link. If a petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it must be considered for a debate in Parliament – so get signing!

Prohibit employers from requiring staff to be vaccinated against Covid (here)

Make it illegal for any employer to mandate vaccination for its employees. This should apply to all public sector (including the NHS, armed forces, care workers), third sector and all private sector.

Do not make vaccination against Covid mandatory (here)

Do not under any circumstances make vaccination against Covid a requirement for the public. To coerce in the form of fines or otherwise, as is being proposed in Austria, would be a grotesque violation of bodily autonomy.

Repeal all ‘Plan B’ Covid measures (here)

The Government must immediately repeal existing ‘Plan B’ measures, and not introduce any additional measures. This means repeal all mask mandates, not making proof of vaccination (or negative test result) a requirement for any venues, and not requiring people to work from home.

Do not require a Covid passport for access to any services, jobs or events (here)

Covid Passports are divisive, discriminatory and wrong. The Government should not implement them for any domestic purpose. It is divisive and discriminatory to deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs which these passports could be used to do.

Referendum in the United Kingdom to abolish the Coronavirus Act (here)

The Government as a matter of urgency, to bring to Parliament for approval, legislation to have a referendum on the above subject within a maximum of six months.

After Boris Suffers Largest Rebellion of His Premiership, is ‘Plan C’ Dead in the Water?

After nearly half of Conservative backbenchers revolted against ‘Plan B’ yesterday, Boris has agreed that if any further restrictions are imposed between now and the New Year Parliament will be recalled. But it is probable that if he attempts to impose ‘Plan C’, i.e. a national lockdown, not only would he face an even greater rebellion, but it would trigger a leadership challenge. That means ‘Plan C’ is unlikely – for now. MailOnline has more.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed this morning that the premier has bowed to demands that Parliament must be recalled for a vote before any further restrictions are brought in.

During the pandemic most curbs have been introduced by ministers and then only approved by MPs retrospectively, something that has added to the fury of sceptics.

One Cabinet source warned that the only way Tory MPs would support a tightening now was after “very clear evidence that Omicron is leading to hospitalisations and deaths”.

The mutiny suffered by Mr. Johnson was close to the record insurrection that hammered Theresa May’s Brexit deal in 2019 – and greater than the biggest rebellions faced by David Cameron, Sir John Major and Margaret Thatcher.

Thirteen MPs who have attended Cabinet under four premiers defied Mr Johnson, including Dame Andrea Leadsom, David Davis, Liam Fox and Chris Grayling. Some 26 Tories first elected in his 2019 landslide victory revolted.

Louie French, the newest Tory MP who was elected in a by-election less than two weeks ago, also went against the government whip.

The numbers were more than enough to wipe out the government’s huge 80-strong majority had Keir Starmer not ridden to the rescue.

The vote came less than two hours after the PM made a last-ditch attempt to quell the rebellion by telling a meeting of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers that he had “no choice” but to impose new curbs.

The grim week for Mr Johnson looks set to get worse, with the Tory struggling to cling on to the previously rock-solid seat of North Shropshire in a by-election tomorrow, triggered by the resignation of Owen Paterson in the sleaze furore.

Worth reading in full.

70 Strong Tory Rebellion to Vote Against ‘Plan B’ Today – But Labour Intends to Back the Government

The Government face its largest backbench rebellion since the Conservatives won the 2019 general election, with roughly 70 Tory MPs expected to vote against the Government’s new ‘Plan B’ restrictions intended to stop the spread of the Omicron variant. These new measures include imposing mask mandates on most indoor settings, compulsory vaccination for NHS staff by April 2022, as well as requiring the use of the Covid pass in order to enter certain public venues. Despite this backbench backlash, Labour has pledged to support the Government, which will ensure that ‘Plan B’ passes the House of Commons. BBC News has more.

Around 70 Conservatives are expected to vote against plans to introduce mandatory Covid passes to enter large venues such as nightclubs.

The PM calls them a sensible response to rising Omicron cases – but the plan has sparked civil liberties concerns.

The measure is still likely to pass, as Labour plans to vote for them.

It would mean that from Wednesday, people will have to prove they are fully vaccinated or have a negative lateral flow test to enter large venues.

In a series of votes in the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon, MPs will also vote on: a new regulation making it compulsory to wear a face covering in most indoor settings, except for pubs and restaurants. A measure allowing fully-vaccinated people who have been exposed to a positive Covid case to avoid self-isolation if they take daily lateral flow tests, and receive a negative result, as well as making it compulsory for frontline NHS and social care staff to be fully vaccinated from April 2022.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told the BBC he hoped the measures would mean “we go into this Christmas in a very different position to last year” and “people can feel reassured” about the their festive plans.

He added that the new Covid passes were not “an unreasonable thing” to ask of people to enter large venues, adding: “I would do it voluntarily.”

The Covid pass measure has proved controversial on the government’s own benches, with one Conservative MP, Marcus Fysh, telling the BBC it was “the thin end of an authoritarian wedge”.

Another Conservative, Andrea Leadsom, said one of her constituents was now “now less afraid of Covid than she is of intrusive and incoherent Government regulations”.

Johnson sought to reassure his colleagues, describing the measures as “balanced and proportionate”, but added there was “no room for complacency”.

The BBC estimates around 70 Conservative MPs are expected to vote against the introduction of Covid passes, which would be the biggest backbench rebellion against the prime minister since he won a Commons majority at the 2019 election.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The campaign group Together has warned that this your last chance to contact your MP before the pivotal vote today (the MP directory can be found here), and has provided a form (here) asking how your MP voted, and what reasons they gave for doing so.

Wetherspoons Boss Attacks Government’s “Lockdown by Stealth”

Tim Martin, the founder and current Chairman of the pub chain Wetherspoons, has referred to the Government’s ‘Plan B’ measures as “lockdown by stealth”. The company has also responded to recently introduced work from home guidelines by warning investors that “the introduction of radical changes… make predictions for sales and profits hazardous”, and that the firm will likely be operating at a loss for the foreseeable future. The Guardian has the story.

In an update to the stock market, JD Wetherspoon told investors that “uncertainty, and the introduction of radical changes of direction by the Government, make predictions for sales and profits hazardous”.

It had been hoping to rebound from the impact of the pandemic this year but told investors that the Government’s ‘Plan B’ for tackling Omicron, including guidance to work from home where possible, meant it was likely to be “loss-making or marginally profitable” for the first half of its financial year.

Martin has been one of the most high-profile Brexiters in British business, a role that had previously seen him endorse Boris Johnson. But he has since become an outspoken critic of the prime minister over Covid measures affecting the hospitality industry, which he claims is not a significant source of outbreaks of the disease.

“The typical British pub, contrary to received opinion in academia, is usually a bastion of social distancing,” he said on Monday.

“However, the repeated warnings and calls for restrictions, mainly from SAGE members and academics, combined with arbitrary changes of direction from the Government, invariably at short notice, affect customer sentiment and trade.

“In effect, the country appears to be heading towards a lockdown by stealth.”

He cited comments made by Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, who has said the Omicron variant does not warrant the “extreme action” taken by the U.K. Government.

Martin added: “For reasons best known to themselves, perhaps in order to encourage more vaccinations, the U.K. Government and its advisers are creating an entirely different and more frightening impression of the variant, which appears to be at odds with the South African experience.

Worth reading in full.

Is there Any Evidence that the New Lockdown Measures will Work?

There follows a guest post in which ‘George Santayana’, the pseudonym of a senior executive in a pharmaceutical company, asks if there is there any evidence that the new lockdown measures will work? After examining the impact of similar measures in Scotland and Wales in the last six months, he concludes that they will not.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced that England would be moving to implement stricter mask mandates, work from home orders and vaccine passports in certain situations to try and do something to limit the rise of the Omicron variant. This is the so-called ‘Plan B’ and, although nowhere near a full Lockdown, involves the U.K. Government flexing its authoritarian muscles and imposing a range of restrictions on England in the name of saving us from viral Armageddon. But is there any evidence that these measures will help?

Effectively since ‘Freedom Day’ (July 19th, 2021), we’ve been doing a real-world experiment in England, Scotland, and Wales because, while England dropped mask requirements and had never implemented vaccine passports, the other two nations maintained the requirement for face coverings and introduced vaccine passports in some settings. In effect, Scotland and Wales all went to versions of ‘Plan B’ and, as a result, we can compare the effect that these extra restrictions have had on SARS-CoV-2 infection and Covid-related deaths to those in England as a way of understanding the potential impact of ‘Plan B’ in England.

Let’s start by thinking about what we might predict would have happened if ‘Plan B’ measures had had any significant effect in preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in Scotland and Wales. Firstly, we would predict that, looking at levels of infection within the general population, we should see a clear difference between England, as the control group, and Wales and Scotland, with England performing worse with respect to the number of infections per head of population or perhaps showing worse trends in things such as more rapid increases in rates of infection or slower recovery from a ‘wave’ of infections. Similarly, if we consider Covid-related deaths, we’d expect that ‘Plan B’ would help Scotland and Wales avoid a larger number of Covid related death compared to England, which would again be at the bottom of the league table. Finally, as the non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) implemented by Wales and Scotland in their ‘Plan Bs’ are similar, we might expect that any trends we observe in looking at infections and deaths in these two countries are more similar to each other than to England, corroborating the idea that these improvements are due to ‘Plan B’.

Let’s first look at the infection data, which we can pull directly from the latest ONS survey that can be found here.

In Figure One, I’ve reproduced the results from the ONS coronavirus infection survey for England, Wales, and Scotland. The arrows on the graphs on the left-hand side indicate the approximate position of July 19th (‘Freedom Day’).