Boris Johnson rushed new Covid restrictions amid fears of an exponential rise in the Omicron variant, as his government was embroiled in a credibility crisis sparked by the Christmas party scandal.
With government experts warning of 10 Omicron infections in the UK currently reaching 1 million by the end of the month and up to 2,000 hospitalizations per day, Johnson insisted it was now time to ‘to act.
But Wednesday night’s announcement regarding the implementation of Plan B measures came amid allegations that Johnson’s own staff broke lockdown rules last year. Labor has claimed he has lost his ‘moral authority’ and some of his own MPs have questioned why the public should now take official advice.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Johnson said people were to work from home whenever possible from Monday and face masks would be a legal requirement in most public indoor spaces such as theaters and cinemas from Friday, with exemptions for eating and drinking in reception areas.
Vaccine passports available for double vaccinated on the NHS app will be needed for those wishing to frequent large, potentially overcrowded places such as nightclubs from next week. But Johnson insisted there was no need to cancel Christmas parties or the crib rooms, and nightclubs will remain open.
There will be a vote in parliament on the restrictions next week, with the government facing a substantial rebellion. Health Secretary Sajid Javid was heckled in the House of Commons as he announced Plan B.
Johnson was immediately pressured over the decision to introduce new restrictions at a time when the No.10 was under fire at a Christmas party when socializing was banned last year.
William Wragg, a Tory MP, accused the prime minister of a ‘diversionary tactic’, while Mark Harper, a former chief whip, asked why anyone should ‘do things that people who work at 10 Downing Street are not ready to do ”.
Johnson came under further fire from Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, who said the Prime Minister should step down if he misled the Commons, and Ruth Davidson, a former Scottish Tory leader, who said : “None of this is defensible from a distance. Not having busy, well-watered parties while others were sticking to the rules, unable to visit sick or dying loved ones. Nor categorically deny things that are easily proven. Don’t take the public for fools.
In a bid to defuse the fury, Johnson apologized to the Commons for a leaked video showing his assistant Allegra Stratton laughing and joking about the party held on December 18 last year. Claiming to be “sickened” by the video, he asked Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, to investigate whether the event had followed Covid rules.
However, it later emerged that Case’s investigation would not cover a second party on November 27, during which Johnson allegedly gave a speech, or the allegations of a party at Johnson’s apartment in Downing Street on November 13, which was also denied. Met Police said they would not investigate despite complaints from two Labor MPs.
Stratton, the spokesperson for Cop26, then resigned in a tearful statement outside her front door, saying she should “regret those remarks for the rest of my life.”
Labor leader Keir Starmer said it was not credible for Johnson to claim he hadn’t known anything. “They knew there was a party, they knew it was against the rules, they knew they couldn’t admit it, and they thought it was funny. “
The Labor leader cited the example of the Queen, who sat alone at Prince Philip’s funeral: “Leadership, sacrifice – this is what gives leaders the moral authority to lead. Does the Prime Minister think he has the moral authority to lead and to ask the British people to play by the rules? “