politics

Millions face home working if Covid surges – as top Tory 'hopes' it won't ruin Christmas


Dr Jenny Harries warned WFH was a ‘key’ tool if there’s a major surge of the Covid Omicron variant – while health minister Gillian Keegan said Christmas plans will ‘hopefully not’ be scuppered

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Omicron: Health minister says Christmas will ‘hopefully not’ be ruined

Millions of people in England face a work-from-home order if Covid surges – but a top Tory today said the new Omicron variant will “hopefully not” ruin Christmas.

New warnings emerged after laws took effect at 4am, making face masks mandatory in many indoor spaces and forcing all international arrivals to take a Day 2 PCR test.

Boris Johnson will give a press conference today – and could set out more details of plans to offer booster vaccines to all over-18s, three months after their second dose.

But so far he has not enacted other parts of his winter ‘Plan B’, such as encouraging people to work from home.

That is despite Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon urging “people to work from home if possible”.

It means an anxious wait for Brits to find out whether more measures could be enacted when the current restrictions are reviewed on December 20 – days before Christmas.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), today said working from home was a “key” element of controlling a possible surge in future.







Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said working from home was a “key” element of controlling a possible surge
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Getty Images)

She also suggested people should try “not socialising when we don’t particularly need to” over Christmas.

Health Minister Gillian Keegan stopped short of guaranteeing there will not be new restrictions over Christmas.

Her boss Sajid Javid last night said the restrictions won’t stay “for a day longer than necessary” – if Omicron turns out to be no more dangerous than Delta.

But he did not say what would happen if it does, for example, resist the vaccine.

Asked if Christmas would be “ruined”, Ms Keegan replied: “Hopefully not”.

She told Sky News: “Let’s be proportional and balanced, as we’re trying to be. We have five cases today. That will go up I’m pretty sure, but what we’re trying to do is really clamp down on that as much as possible.”







Asked if Christmas would be “ruined”, Gillian Keegan replied: “Hopefully not”
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Sky News)

Ms Keegan added the chances of having to isolate over Christmas were “pretty low”.

She said: “Of course Christmas is on track, and actually what everybody wants for Christmas is if you haven’t had your first jab, come and get it, if you haven’t had your second jab, come and get it, and if you haven’t had your booster, come and get it when you’re asked.”

She urged parents to keep attending nativity plays, telling LBC: “I think we’ve said go about your plans.

“I mean, obviously wear a mask, be cautious, you know, all the things that people usually put in place, to be honest.

“I think most people have been sensible all along, but we’re not saying to people cancel your plans and I’m sure it would be lovely to go to a nativity play right now.”

Dr Harries told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) “has shown that if we have significant surges in Covid cases, then actually working from home is one of the key ones to implement and that’s why it is in Plan B.

“But it’s probably worth just thinking through at the moment; although I’m sure we will have more cases announced, we do only have five confirmed cases (of the new Omicron variant in England) and 10 highly probable at the moment.

“So it’s a very early stage for this, I think, but certainly, if we see surges, then working from home will be a good thing to do.”

Asked later by BBC Breakfast whether the UK will see a return to work from home guidance, she said: “The whole point about the booster programme and the introduction of mandatory face mask-wearing in enclosed public spaces is exactly to try and avoid that because we’ve made huge progress, we have great defences and, in the background, the dominant strain in the UK at the moment is very definitely Delta.

“So these vaccines will help that, it will keep serious infection, serious disease and hospitalisations at bay, but we do need this time to try and understand the new variant, and we would much prefer that we have that precautionary approach and then take appropriate actions.”

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