We are moving to Plan B as Omicron is spreading rapidly and we need time to understand more about the variant and provide more boosters, especially to vulnerable people.
From Monday 13 December, office workers who can work from home should do so.
From Friday 10 December, face coverings will be required by law in most indoor public spaces and on public transport.
From Friday 15 December, certain venues and events will be required by law to check that all visitors aged over the age of 18 are fully vaccinated (double jabbed), have proof of a negative test in the last 48 hours, or have a medical exemption.
NHS COVID Passes are not vaccine passports because a negative test is enough.
Plan B measures will be reviewed and monitored against the latest scientific and medical data.
Why are we moving to Plan B?
We do not yet know Omicron’s severity, exact rate of transmission, nor the full effectiveness of our vaccines against it.
It has, however, become increasingly clear that it is growing much faster than the Delta variant and is spreading rapidly around the world and in the UK. Indeed, there is evidence that the doubling time of Omicron in the UK could be between two and three days.
We cannot yet assume that Omicron is less severe than previous variants, and so Plan B has been brought into action to slow the spread of the virus and give us time to understand the answers to key outstanding questions about the variant.
Crucially, it will also help buy us time to get more boosters into more arms, especially in older and vulnerable people. As shown below, the data shows that two vaccine doses significantly reduces the likelihood of needing hospitalisation from COVID, and preliminary findings suggests that booster doses are important in reducing the impact of Omicron.
I thought evidence suggests that Omicron symptoms are 'far milder'?
It would be very good news if Omicron is less severe, though there isn’t enough evidence to prove this. Public and private healthcare providers in South Africa are reporting different experiences. Hospitalisations in South Africa are now doubling every 5 days. It’s important to remember there is always a lag between infections and cases. Moreover, infections in South Africa have been skewed towards younger people, who are less likely to need hospital treatment. Previously in the pandemic, infections among young people have always spread to older people, before then leading to higher hospitalisations and deaths.
Even if Omicron is milder, the danger remains that if Omicron spreads so much more quickly – because it’s intrinsically more transmissible, or it escapes immunity, or a combination of the two – that so many people get sick at the same time and hospitals can’t cope with the flood of patients. For example, if hospitalisations follow infections and double every 3 days, even if Omicron is half as severe, the benefit of that reduction in severity is wiped out in just 3 days – and numbers will keep on doubling until the virus runs out of people to infect.
Do I need to work from home?
From Monday 13 December 2021, office workers who can work from home should do so. This will reduce contacts in the workplace and help slow transmission.
Anyone who cannot work from home should continue to go into work -for example, to access equipment necessary for their role or where their role must be completed in person.
In-person working will be necessary in some cases to continue the effective and accessible delivery of some public services and private industries. If you need to continue to go into work, consider taking lateral flow tests regularly to manage your own risk and the risk to others.
Where do I need to wear a face covering?
From Friday 10 December, face coverings will be required by law in most indoor public spaces and on public transport, including taxis.
There are some exemptions in places where wearing a face covering is not practical. These include:
- Restaurants, cafés and canteens
- Bars and shisha bars
- Gyms & exercise facilities
- Photography studios
- Nightclubs, dance halls and discotheques
Who will need to show their NHS COVID Pass?
From 15 December, certain venues and events will be required by law to check that all visitors aged over the age of 18 are fully vaccinated (currently a full course of vaccination without the need for a booster), have proof of a negative test in the last 48 hours, or have an exemption.
This means that those aged 18 years or over must show their NHS COVID Pass, or an alternative proof of a negative test result, such as an email or text proof, to gain entry into these venues.
Where will I need to show my NHS COVID Pass?
The NHS COVID Pass will be mandatory for entry into:
- Nightclubs, dance halls or discotheques.
- Other late night dance venues (any other venues that are open between 1am and 5am, serve alcohol during this time, have a dancefloor/designated space for dancing and provide music for dancing).
- Unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people.
- Unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people.
- Any venue with more than 10,000 people.
There are some settings that will be exempt from requirements to use the NHS COVID Pass including communal worship, wedding ceremonies, funerals and other commemorative events, protests, and mass participation sporting events.
How do I get my NHS COVID Pass?
You can access your NHS COVID Pass through:
You can get your NHS COVID Pass two weeks after completing a full course of vaccination, or with a negative test in the last 48 hours. You can show email or text proof of your negative test result in order to gain entry to venues that require a COVID pass.
You can also obtain an NHS COVID Pass if you have a medical reason that means you cannot be vaccinated, confirmed by your GP or a specialist clinician.
Is the NHS COVID Pass the same as a vaccine passport?
NHS COVID Passes are not vaccine passports because a negative test is enough. The Government has listened to concerns from MPs and is not proceeding with vaccine passports as originally intended in Plan B.
Anyone will be able to attend mass events and nightclubs if they show proof of a negative lateral flow test, regardless of vaccination status. Unvaccinated people can get lateral flow tests for free from gov.uk or pharmacies and take them at home. People who have had two vaccine doses won't need to take a test.
What evidence is there to support the use of NHS COVID Passes?
Certification based on vaccination or test can reduce the number of unvaccinated or infectious people in venues, which limits the overall transmission risk. Vaccine or test certification will not eliminate the possibility of infectious individuals attending settings but will reduce the likelihood of someone transmitting the virus to large numbers of people attending.
SAGE documents published in April this year say certification, either via proof of negative test or vaccination, means a lower probability that an individual is infectious or that an individual will suffer severe symptoms if the virus is transmitted to them.
A Public Health England research report from the Events Research Programme concluded that during periods of high prevalence, measures which reduce the number of infectious people entering venues, or promote attendance by fully vaccinated individuals, will be important.
SAGE papers published in October also confirm that Plan B contingency measures, including certification, could be sufficient to bring R down.
Can I still meet friends and family indoors?
There is no limit on meeting friends and family indoors, however, the Government has published guidance to make it as safe as possible.
Meeting outdoors is safer than indoors, but this is not always possible. If you are indoors, you should let fresh air in to reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.
You can let in fresh air by uncovering vents and opening doors and windows. Opening your windows for just 10 minutes, or a small amount of time continuously where you can, makes a significant difference. This is particularly important before, during, and after meeting people you do not live with indoors.
If you have an extractor fan at home, for example in your bathroom or kitchen, think about leaving it running for longer than usual with the door closed after someone has used the room.
How long will Plan B measures last?
All the measures above will be reviewed on 5 January and they will all sunset on 26 January 2022.
Decisions will be guided by the hard medical data around four key criteria:
- The efficacy of our vaccines and boosters.
- The severity of Omicron.
- The speed ofOmicron’s spread.
- The rate of hospitalisations.