Prepare for 'stay at home December': Businesses allow WFH until 2022
1st December 2021

Ministers are accused of scaring families and business into cancelling Christmas THEMSELVES: Firms tell staff to WFH until January and call off festive parties while SAGE pushes for FIVE-DAY travel quarantine – but is it all part of Boris’s plan?

  • Ministers have said that new Covid rules to stop spread of Omicron will be reviewed in three weeks’ time 
  • But the new rule on self-isolation after contact with an Omicron case is enshrined in law until March next year
  • That has spooked anti-lockdown Tory MPs who fear the curbs could be in place for longer than expected
  • They have warned the new self-isolation rule could prompt a return to the ‘pingdemic’ if case numbers spike
  • But Health Secretary Sajid Javid dismissed those concerns as he insisted that Omicron case numbers are low
  • The Government stressed new rules will be reviewed after three weeks and will be axed as soon as possible

Ministers were today accused of scaring businesses into sending staff home through December and cancelling Christmas parties because of the Omicron strain of Covid-19 as SAGE scientists called for all UK arrivals to be forced to quarantine for five days and take a pre-departure PCR test even if they are fully vaccinated.   

Boris Johnson has said that face coverings must be worn in shops and on public transport from yesterday – though not in hospitality venues – and insisted there was no need for companies to send staff home to avoid a Christmas lockdown.

But there was chaos yesterday after UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief Dr Jenny Harries said people should limit socialising to slow the spread of the variant. This sparked suspicion among Tory MPs that she was being set up as the fall guy by ministers who are too scared to admit further restrictions are likely. 

Critics say the Government’s latest coronavirus rules on masks, blanket quarantine for Omicron contacts and gloomy language about the threat of the new variant is actually encouraging a semi-lockdown by stealth despite just 22 cases of the new strain detected so far. Deaths, infections and hospitalisations were all down yesterday.  

Today Brewin Dolphin, one of the largest British wealth management firms in the UK, told staff in London they can stay away from the office from December 10 until January 7, MailOnline can reveal. Staff should not ‘feel uncomfortable declining’ invites to events before December 25, bosses also said. 

Google has emailed UK staff urging them to ‘move any planned in-person social gatherings until 2022’ and limiting them to no more than 15 people. Ronan Harris, Vice President and MD for Google UK & Ireland also told workers that business meetings and events must be approved by a company director. 

And despite Government guidance saying otherwise, many UK companies employing hundreds of thousands of staff have scrambled to reinstate office restrictions including mask wearing in communal areas such as corridors and lifts. 

Christmas parties are also being axed – costing pubs and clubs billions of pounds – and if the parties are still going ahead attendees are being told by their bosses to take a lateral flow test on the morning of the event and wear masks. Schools cancelled nativity plays and fairs while councils axed Santa visits for vulnerable children. 

Pubs and clubs have reported a slew of last minute cancellations since Mr Johnson’s first TV press conference on Saturday as hospitality businesses lined up to warn the Prime Minister that the chilling effect of Covid restrictions will cost the economy ‘billions’ in the run-up to Christmas. Many big businesses are not holding big parties this year. Those that are will demand a negative covid test result for all attendees.

And there was even more confusion today after Health Secretary Sajid Javid encouraged millions of people to be ‘sensible’ and ‘cautious’ and take a lateral flow test before going to Christmas events to slow the spread of the Omicron variant. 

Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope has claimed the Prime Minister’s regulations, which are enshrined in law until March, are ‘part of a scaremongering propaganda campaign that is really designed to restrict or stop interaction between social animals. They’re designed to suppress freedom of the individual and suppress social contact, and they’re doing that through unreasonable fear-mongering.’

Alec Shelbrooke, Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, said: ‘I have received several emails from travel companies in my constituency whose potential bookings have dropped off a cliff because of the cost of PCR tests’, adding encouragement back towards working from home will be devastating for businesses relying on office workers. 

The row over the new covid regulations, enshrined in law until March, came as: 

  •  Joe Biden is considering tougher entry requirements for travellers going to the US in a move which could include forcing arrivals to quarantine for seven days.
  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it is time for the EU ‘to think about’ making Covid vaccines mandatory across the entire bloc.
  • Mr Javid admitted it will be a ‘huge ask’ to deliver on the Government’s booster drive pledge of offering a jab to every UK adult by the end of January. 
  • Labour urged the Government to introduce pre-departure testing for all people before they fly to the UK.  
  • Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said some NHS organisations had asked staff ‘not to mix in big groups’ in the run-up to Christmas. 
  • Data published by the Office for National Statistics showed a total of 170,816 deaths have occurred in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.  

Boris Johnson has been accused of giving mixed messages as businesses allowed staff to work from home until 2022

All UK arrivals should be forced to quarantine for five days and take a pre-departure PCR test even if they are vaccinated, SAGE has advised.

The expert panel warned the current travel curbs were allowing ‘significant’ numbers of infected people to slip through the cracks.

Currently, fully vaccinated people coming into the UK need to take a PCR test within the first two days of returning to the UK.

There is nothing stopping them taking this as soon as they land and getting a result on the same day, releasing them from isolation in hours.

SAGE scientists said this might not give enough time for the virus to incubate. They also called for ministers to bring in day five and day eight tests.

Only unvaccinated people coming into the UK have to take ‘fit to fly’ tests before getting on a plane back to Britain.

SAGE’s new advice was leaked from minutes of an emergency meeting about the new Omicron variant held on Monday.

SAGE calls for compulsory five-day isolation and ‘fit to fly’ tests for all UK arrivals

All UK arrivals should be forced to quarantine for five days and take a pre-departure PCR test even if they are vaccinated, SAGE has advised.

The expert panel warned the current travel curbs were allowing ‘significant’ numbers of infected people to slip through the cracks.

Currently, fully vaccinated people coming into the UK need to take a PCR test within the first two days of returning to the UK.

There is nothing stopping them taking this as soon as they land and getting a result on the same day, releasing them from isolation in hours.

SAGE scientists said this might not give enough time for the virus to incubate. They also called for ministers to bring in day five and day eight tests.

Only unvaccinated people coming into the UK have to take ‘fit to fly’ tests before getting on a plane back to Britain.

SAGE’s new advice was leaked from minutes of an emergency meeting about the new Omicron variant held on Monday.

More than 30 scientists attended the video conference on November 29, led by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty.

More than 30 scientists attended the video conference on November 29, led by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical adviser Professor Chris Whitty.

They also said Britain should brace for a ‘potentially very significant wave with associated hospitalisations’ this winter if the worst estimates about Omicron turn out to be true.

Boris Johnson tightened travel rules yesterday to require arrivals to self-isolate until they get a negative PCR test result.

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper today said it was ‘totally unacceptable’ that ministers were failing to heed advice from their own scientists to impose more curbs at the border.

The Government rejected calls for up to eight-day self-isolation for vaccinated arrivals this week, arguing it would have a ‘detrimental’ impact on the travel industry.

Businesses have lined up to warn Boris Johnson that the chilling effect of Covid restrictions will cost the economy ‘billions’ in the run-up to Christmas.

Pubs and restaurants said people were already cancelling Christmas parties even though there is no requirement to wear masks in hospitality venues. Theatres have also started asking visitors to wear masks.

Airline bosses warned that restrictive new testing requirements since the emergence of the latest strain was putting put the industry’s fragile recovery at risk. Bookings have weakened and fears are rising that carriers could see a wave of cancellations.

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said the uncertainty caused by the mixed messages was damaging business.

‘It is surreal and extremely frustrating to see healthcare advisers publicly telling people not to socialise, giving unnecessary uncertainty to our customers and workforce,’ he said.

He added: ‘At the very moment operating costs are at their highest, we are now faced with another poorly conceived communications strategy from Government which has and will severely impact businesses,’ he said.

‘Christmas bookings and advance ticket sales have already been hit following the announcement of the new Omicron variant.’ Former minister Steve Baker condemned the intervention from Dr Harries, saying: ‘Loneliness shortens lives… and yet we find an official going beyond Government policy to say that we should not have unnecessary socialising.’ Fellow Tory Sir Desmond Swayne said telling people not to socialise would be ‘to the huge detriment of people’s wellbeing and industries struggling to recover from earlier lockdowns.’ 

Tory MPs have blasted the Government after it emerged new rules on self-isolation will be enshrined in law until March, sparking fears the curbs could remain in place far beyond a promised three week review.

Festive flights to US in jeopardy? Brits face Covid test 24 hours before take-off and could have to isolate for SEVEN DAYS on arrival

British families looking forward to Christmas holidays in the US face having their plans thrown into chaos as Joe Biden considers tougher entry requirements – including forcing arrivals to quarantine for seven days.

Fully-vaccinated travellers from all countries may now have to take a PCR or lateral flow test within a day of departure – a reduction from the current three days, according to a plan discussed by US officials.

The President is also considering whether to require air travellers to get another Covid-19 test within three to five days after arriving in the United States, three anonymous health officials told the Washington Post.

In addition, the US is debating whether all passengers must quarantine for seven days, even with negative test results – which would deal a crippling blow to the travel industry and force thousands of Britons to cancel trips. Those who flout the requirements could face fines. 

Talks at the White House come amid mounting concern over the new the Omicron variant, which has been identified in more than 20 countries but not yet in the US. 

A new restriction came into force yesterday which requires people who have been in contact with a case of the Omicron coronavirus variant to self-isolate for 10 days or risk a fine of up to £10,000. 

Boris Johnson has said that rule, along with requirements to wear face masks in shops and on public transport and for returning travellers to take a PCR test on or before day two after arrival, will be reviewed before Christmas. 

But the regulations underpinning the self-isolation rule are not due to expire until March 24, prompting a backlash from anti-lockdown Tories. 

Conservative MPs have expressed concerns that the new rule could cause a fresh ‘pingdemic’ which could devastate the economy and education system. 

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid today dismissed those concerns as he said the current number of Omicron cases is still ‘very low’ with 22 confirmed cases across the UK.   

Mr Johnson rejected the advice of Dr Jenny Harries, pointing out it is not included in formal guidance, as he told people they do not need to cancel Christmas parties or school nativity plays.  

Mr Javid echoed the PM’s position this morning as he said people ‘should continue to behave in the way that they were planning to behave over Christmas’ and ‘I don’t think there is any need to change those plans’.

However, the Health Secretary risked further confusion after he said he would take a Covid test before attending a Christmas party. 

He said that testing before a party is ‘not a formal recommendation in the guidance’ but he would take a test if he was attending such an event as a ‘sensible precaution’. 

It came as Mr Johnson was grilled by Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs over claims that the Prime Minister and his Downing Street staff broke Covid rules by holding two festive gatherings in Number 10 in 2020. 

The Daily Mirror reported that the PM gave a speech at a packed leaving do for a senior aide last November when the country was in the midst of the second lockdown. Members of his Number 10 team apparently then held their own festive party days before Christmas, while London was subject to Tier 3 Covid restrictions.

Mr Johnson did not deny that a party had taken place but said ‘all guidance was followed completely’ as Sir Keir accused the PM of ‘taking the British public for fools’.   


Sir Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson clashed over new Covid rules at PMQs this lunchtime as the PM faced a revolt from Tory MPs

The Government has insisted the rules will be reviewed in three weeks’ time but Tory MPs, including former chief whip Mark Harper, have expressed concerns about the expiry date

MPs voted yesterday to overwhelmingly support Mr Johnson’s new rule on self-isolation by 431 votes to 36, as 32 Tories rebelled to vote against. 

Tory backbenchers are worried that while the Government has said the restrictions will be reviewed in three weeks, ministers could subsequently act to keep them in place. 

The rule on compulsory face masks will expire on December 20 but the rule on self-isolation will technically be enshrined in law until March 24. 

Former chief whip Mark Harper raised the expiry date issue with Vaccine Minister Maggie Throup yesterday. 

He said: ‘The Government have said that they are going to review these measures after three weeks and she is right—on the face masks, the regulations expire on 20 December—but the self-isolation SI (statutory instrument) has no expiry date, which means it will run all the way until the main statutory instrument expires on 24 March 2022. Why is that?’ 

Ms Throup said Mr Harper had made a ‘very good point’ but insisted ‘we will not continue to have these regulations in place for any longer than is necessary’.   

Mr Harper said: ‘While ministers have been clear that the regulations will be reviewed in three weeks… the regulations are not time limited; they amend another set of regulations that do not have an expiry date until March next year. 

‘Although the minister tells me that they will not be enforced for a day longer than necessary, she must recognise that, given the events of the past few weeks and how ministers handled, among other things, the standards measures, there has been a diminution in trust between backbenchers and ministers.’

Government sources told Politico that the March date is the result of a technical issue relating to how the change was made in legislation and have stressed the important moment is the three-week review. 

The new rule on self-isolation has prompted fears among Tory MPs of a potential return to the ‘pingdemic’ which wreaked havoc across the country earlier this year as thousands of people were told to stay at home.  

Ursula von der Leyen says it is ‘time to think about mandatory vaccination’ across the ENTIRE EU

It is time for the European Union ‘to think about’ making Covid vaccines mandatory across the entire bloc, Ursula von der Leyen has said as the continent battles a winter wave of virus amid fears about the Omicron variant. 

The EU Commission President, speaking in Brussels, said it will ultimately be up to member states to decide their own vaccine rules – but it is her ‘personal opinion’ that the time is right to discuss forcing people to get jabs.

‘We have one third of the population which is not vaccinated. This is 150million people – that is a lot. Not each and every one could be vaccinated… but the vast majority could,’ she said.

Ms Von der Leyen’s comments come after Austria announced plans to make vaccines mandatory for all eligible citizens by February, with an aide to incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz saying yesterday that he wants to follow suit.  

Tory MP Steve Brine said: ‘We are not just looking at a pingdemic in our economy and in our businesses; we are looking at a pingdemic that will devastate education again. 

‘After everything that we have learned—everything that I have felt in my own family—are we really, seriously, going to do that to our children again?’ 

Fellow Tory MP Craig Mackinlay said: ‘I am afraid that the proposals mean we are going to fall into a new pingdemic.’    

But Mr Javid today said he is not worried about a potential ‘pingdemic’ because the number of Omicron cases is still ‘very low’. 

He told Sky News: ‘No, no I am not. At this point in time the case numbers are very low. I think throughout the UK we have got 22 confirmed cases at the moment.

‘Now, that will go up, it will certainly go up, but the numbers are low, I hope it sort of stays that way.

‘So, I am not worried about a pingdemic type situation but we have always also said that even before we knew about the variant in our Plan A we have always been clear that as you get into deeper winter, the colder, darker days, the virus likes that, not just this virus, the flu virus, they like that.

‘So as we do that then people should just be careful to try and think can they ventilate a room and just follow the current guidance.’

Dr Harries sparked a Tory backlash and warnings from the hospitality industry yesterday after she said decreasing social contact ‘a little bit’ could help slow the spread of the new variant.   

She said that ‘if we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay’. 

Downing Street subsequently slapped down the advice as it stressed a reduction in socialising is not part of the Government’s response to Omicron. 

Mr Johnson later echoed a similar sentiment at a Number 10 press conference as he said Christmas parties should still go ahead. 

Mr Javid was asked for his opinion on the issue this morning as he told Sky News: ‘I think people should continue to behave in the way that they were planning to behave over Christmas.

‘I don’t think there is any need to change those plans. The only changes that have been made in the last few days are the ones that everyone now knows about.

‘It might effect your international travel plans, so if someone had plans to travel over Christmas then there could be an impact there.

‘There is the need to self-isolate if you come into contact with someone with Omicron.’

The Health Secretary was also asked if people should take a coronavirus test before attending a Christmas party. 

He replied: ‘I would. I would. It is not a formal recommendation in the guidance but if I was going to a party with lots of party and things I would.

‘But I would have done that by the way even before we knew about this variant.

‘Again, the reason I would have done that is because it is getting cold, it is getting darker, we are spending more time indoors, probably more people indoors than before just because of the colder, darker days, so a sensible precaution that everyone can take.’ 

Mr Javid told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that people should be ‘sensible’ of they attend a Christmas party. 

He said: ‘If you are invited to a Christmas party, there’s quite a few people there, maybe you want to take an LFT (lateral flow test) test before you go. Go to the party, but just be cautious.’

Asked if he would wear a mask if he was at a party, Mr Javid said: ‘It depends if I am walking around or sitting down. It depends if I’m eating. People just need to make a decision based on the guidance.’

The Cabinet minister defended the Government’s decision to make face coverings compulsory on public transport and in shops in England but not in hospitality settings.

‘The job of government is to listen to expert advice and then make a balanced and proportionate judgment. That’s what we’ve done,’ he said.

‘We’ve acted swiftly. But I think what we’ve said on face coverings and the other measures that we have taken is a balanced and proportionate approach.’ 

The Government has said the new rules on self-isolation, face masks and travel testing which came into effect from 4am yesterday will buy scientists some time to analyse the Omicron variant and to determine if vaccines are effective against it.  

Omicron Covid appeared in Nigeria in OCTOBER – weeks before South Africa announced discovery of variant, new tests reveal

Nigeria has confirmed its first cases of Omicron Covid and revealed it was in the country in October, weeks before South Africa alerted the world to its existence.

Three Omicron cases were detected in travellers who arrived in Nigeria from South Africa within the past week, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control said today.

But Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, the agency’s director, added that retroactive testing of Covid samples collected in recent weeks had identified another case of Omicron dating back to October.

It means that Omicron – designated a ‘variant of concern’ by the WHO and believed to be the most-infectious form of Covid yet found – was likely circulating undetected for weeks before first being identified. 

The discovery comes just a day after after Dutch health authorities said they also found a case of Omicron in a sample collected on November 19, four days before South Africa sounded the alarm.

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