Tomorrow (December 13) brings the return of work from home ‘advice’ from government as part of its Plan B proposals to control the spread of the Omicron variant of covid.
This followed the reintroduction of compulsory face coverings in shops, cinemas, theatres and places of worship – although not hospitality – last Friday (December 10).
And on Tuesday MPs will vote on making the NHS Covid Pass mandatory for entry into nightclubs and settings where large crowds gather – including unseated indoor events with 500 or more attendees, unseated outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees and any event with 10,000 or more attendees.
People will need to demonstrate proof of two vaccine doses via the NHS app. Proof of a negative lateral flow test will also be accepted.
If approved the measure will come into force the following day (December 15).
Omicron; what Government says:
The government says this is due to data suggesting Omicron has a very high growth rate and is spreading rapidly. Early analysis from the UK Health Security Agency suggests the doubling time could be as little as 2.5 to 3 days.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) estimates that if Omicron continues to grow at the present rate, the variant will become the dominant strain, accounting for more than 50% of all COVID-19 infections in the UK by mid-December. It is projected that if current trends continue unchanged, the UK will exceed one million infections a day by the end of this month.
As of yesterday (December 11), there have been 1,898 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the UK. Cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi has said there are people with the variant now in hospital. There are no deaths recorded.
There are now reports that government officials are working on a ‘plan c’ which could include having to use the NHS Covid app to go to a pub or restaurant, face masks being compulsory in all indoor spaces and widening the use of the vaccine passport.
However, the reintroduction of covid measures has provoked a backlash on the Conservative back benches with up to 60 Tory MPs expected to vote against the measures.
Among them will be South Thanet’s Craig Mackinlay, who is a member of the COVID Recovery Group (CRG), an informal group of Conservative MPs who opposed the UK government’s decision to introduce a second period of lockdown measures for England during the COVID-19 pandemic, and who voted against the restrictions.
He said: “I’m a huge supporter of the Covid vaccine but opposed to vaccine passports and any mandating in a free society. Nor is the evidence there to support reverting to lockdowns again.
Implementing restrictions ‘just in case’ is not good enough when jobs, livelihoods and lives are at stake. That’s why I’ll be voting against these measures.”
The MP was previously one of 63 who signed a letter in February to say there would be ‘no justification’ for any legislative restrictions on public life to remain once all nine priority groups – meaning all those over 50 and those who are clinically vulnerable – had received a covid vaccination by the end of April. The letter called for the reopening of schools and pubs and restaurants.
In his latest column update Mr Mackinlay says perhaps it is time to say we can do no more than has already been done.
He says: “In the worst case – vaccines not terribly good and symptoms severe – can we seriously lockdown again for months?
“Let me outline how the timings work: the pharmaceutical companies can easily re-formulate a better vaccine more specific to any variant, but this takes about two months. Then there is the not insignificant matter of bulking up a new formulation for the UK into millions of doses. The revised vaccine then needs to be got into millions of arms, perhaps twice.
“Just looking at the last cycle that we’ve been through – the first vaccination was on 8th December 2020 and proper opening up didn’t happen until 19th July 2021, a cycle of seven months.
“Can we seriously do that again with the corollary issues of the NHS grinding to a halt for other health issues, education and young lives put on hold, business failures, liberties restricted and the added cost to the public purse?
“I’m not sure the financial markets and Bank of England creativity could support another £400Bn of borrowing if we were to repeat it. But say we did, as many will be calling for, the likelihood is that yet another variant would rear its head at the end of it, we’d do it again etc, etc.
“Perhaps we just have to say that’s it, we’ve done collectively and individually everything we could and we can do no more.”
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale will vote for the latest measures, saying: “I believe that the Covid/Omicron measures being introduced by the Government on scientific advice are necessary and proportionate and I shall vote accordingly.”
The veteran MP says few people have issue with wearing face coverings and although the work from home advice will cause diffulty for some, those that can will and those that can’t will continue to attend their workplaces.
On the vaccine passport issue he says: “When I said, recently, that having travelled within mainland Europe during the past twelve months through countries where the production of a “Vax App” is commonplace I found no difficulty or impediment in obtaining entry to restaurants or to the `Bar/Tabac` I was told that “Yes but that is `over there`; we are British”. That is xenophobia in spades. “
He adds: “You have an absolute right to determine what is pumped into your body and what is not and I will fiercely defend that right. What you do not have is a right to then mix with others and to disseminate the infections that you may be carrying because you have unilaterally decided to exercise your right to decline a vaccination.
“To enter a football ground or a nightclub or a theatre you have to purchase a ticket. If you do not have the money to buy that ticket you may not gain entry. The so-called `Vaccination Passport” is part of the entry ticket. If you do not have one you cannot reasonably demand to be admitted. And unlike the funds needed to buy admission to a private venue the vaccination is free of charge and to accept or decline it is entirely your choice. So the arguments about `discrimination` and a `two-tier society` are, in my view, libertarian claptrap.
“Life is full of consequences. You `pays your money and you takes your choice` I believe that I have a duty to keep as many of the people that I represent as safe as possible for as much of the time as possible and I shall pursue that line of duty for as long as I remain a Member of Parliament.”
In Thanet the seven day rolling infection rate up until December 6 stands at 569.1 per 100,000, taking Thanet over the national average. The UK average is 502.1.In Thanet there has been one confirmed Omicron and one S-Gene Target Failure recorded.
As of December 7 there were 53 covid in-patients at East Kent Hospitals (QEQM/Ashford and Canterbury) with 9 people on ventilation. On the same date last year there were 206 covid in-patients with 18 on ventilation.
Thanet has recorded zero deaths related to covid in December.
Thanet vaccinations given as of December 10 are first dose 106,677; second dose 98,112 and booster/third dose 55,426.
People aged 30 and over will be able to book an appointment for their COVID-19 booster jab from tomorrow (Monday 13 December) as the NHS vaccine programme extends once again.