Back to WFH: Bosses hit out at ‘absurd’ message to stay away from office but go to a party – as some commuters say trains are quieter and traffic drops but other stations still look busy as guidance is reintroduced today
- Boris Johnson is telling people to work from home and have a booster jab to slow spread of Omicron strain
- Railway stations and roads are empty in scenes reminiscent of previous UK national lockdowns
- More than 60 Tory backbenchers are poised to oppose the new Plan B measures ahead of Commons vote
- Critics believe the Prime Minister is imposing a new lockdown by stealth with Plan C already on the horizon
City bosses vented as Boris Johnson asked millions to work from home today, leaving London stations near-deserted and usually packed roads ‘unbelievably quiet’ during the quietest Monday morning rush hour for more than three months.
The world famous concourses at Waterloo and Paddington, usually rammed with commuters between 7am and 9am, were both empty this morning in scenes repeated at railway stations all over the UK. Tube platforms and carriages were also largely deserted.
Traffic was also running freely on routes usually choked with traffic on the quietest Monday morning rush hour since September 6, MailOnline can reveal, with one central London resident tweeting: ‘I’m slap bang in the middle of London and roads are unbelievably quiet now’. Another commuter tweeted: ‘Work from home order well and truly back. Tube is absolutely empty this morning’.
The working from home recommendation is the latest step of Mr Johnson’s Plan B to slow the spread of Omicron in the UK – but critics including his own MPs believe it is simply a stepping stone towards another lockdown.
There is also incredulity about the PM’s insistence that people shouldn’t go to the office, but should still go to Christmas parties and dinners. But the great office exodus means businesses such as pubs, cafes and restaurants, already struggling, will be pushed to the brink as office workers stay away.
Andrew Monk, CEO of VSA capital, has hit out at the ‘absurd’ guidance and claims that his staff have been begging to come to the office despite the Prime Minister’s diktat.
He said: ‘I’m not very happy with it. It’s a bit absurd that this time last year you were told: go to work but don’t party. Now we’re being told: party but don’t go to work. It doesn’t make sense does it.
‘We’ve got all our staff back and they’re actually very happy to be back. They’re disappointed that they are being told, sorry, you’ve got to work from home if necessary.
‘Most of them have said: Can we come in? We’ve kept the office open but it will be a skeleton crew. We are following the government’s guidelines but it’s obviously disappointing.
He added: ‘We’re much more productive when we are in the office together. We have quite clear proof. Where we do fundraising, we raise far more money when we do it with clients in person rather than on Zoom. But also the staff want to come in.
‘I believe we’ve made it as safe in the office as it is at home. I don’t think we’re putting anybody’s health at risk at all’.
A near empty Waterloo station at 7am today as commuters stayed at home after Boris Johnson’s work from home guidance frustrated City bosses
Paddington was similarly deserted this morning as people stopped commuting until the New Year at the earliest
A near empty quiet carriage from Maidenhead to Paddington as work from home guidance by the government has started on Monday
This Piccadilly Line train would usually be rammed with people heading to work or the airport – but today it is practically empty
Commuters travel on the London Underground at Kings Cross afterBritish Prime Minster Boris Johnson triggered ‘Plan B’ in an attempt to fight the spread of the Omicron
A much quieter Waterloo Station in London at the start of the Plan B working from home measures
More than 60 Tory backbenchers are poised to oppose the Plan B measures to counter the threat of the Omicron variant – the biggest rebellion of Mr Johnson’s premiership
London had its quietest term-time Monday morning rush hour since the start of September today, with TomTom reporting a congestion level of 42 per cent.
The last time the level was lower than that on a Monday morning between the 7am and 8am period was October 25, during half-term, when it was 31 per cent.
And before then it was on Monday, September 6 – when some schools were yet to go back after the summer break – when the level was down at 39 per cent.
The congestion level represents the extra travel time for drivers on average compared to baseline uncongested conditions.
This means that a 42 per cent level in London means a 30-minute trip will take 13 minutes more than with no traffic.
It comes on the morning that Boris Johnson’s new guidance on working from home came into force, after being announced last Wednesday.
More than 60 Tory backbenchers are poised to oppose the Plan B measures to counter the threat of the Omicron variant – the biggest rebellion of Mr Johnson’s premiership.
The restrictions will see proof of vaccination or a negative test become mandatory for large venues this week, and today the return of work from home guidance.
The Prime Minister will avoid an embarrassing defeat with the measures set to be voted through thanks to backing from Labour.
But many MPs are fearful the Prime Minister may impose even stricter curbs before Christmas.
As many as ten Parliamentary Private Secretaries are on the verge of resigning ahead of tomorrow’s votes on the new restrictions.
The MPs, who serve as ministers’ assistants, have formed a secret WhatsApp group to discuss how they will vote when the measures are put to parliament, according to The Daily Telegraph.
It is understood one secretary was on the brink of resignation last night after watching the Prime Minister’s televised statement in which he confirmed ‘vaccine passports’ will go ahead.
The MPs include two of Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove’s three ministerial aides, Danny Kruger and Angela Richardson, and two of Justice Secretary Dominic Raab’s assistants, Joy Morrissey and Mike Wood.
Officials are already drawing up a Plan C which would see the return of ‘checking in’ to a pub or restaurant, using masks in all indoor spaces and having to show a vaccine status at even more venues.
The UK Covid alert level was raised from level 3 to level 4 after the UK reported another 1,239 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant
The above map shows the ten areas that have the most confirmed and suspected Omicron cases in England, according to the UK Health Security Agency. West Northamptonshire is the country’s hotspot for the mutant strain, although eight in ten areas on the list are in London
Tory former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said last night he believed Plan B was a ‘stepping stone’ into another lockdown – and accused ministers of moving ‘without the facts’ on Omicron. ‘The problem is we are halfway between two things: the Government has done a bit by what they call Plan B – but in a way Plan B is a stepping stone to a lockdown,’ he said.
Backbencher Henry Smith said Plan B was a ‘danger to our civil liberties’ which would ‘severely impact’ economic recovery prospects.
He added: ‘I think it is yet further distraction from other health conditions which require attention – such as the cancer backlog – and I don’t actually think [the restrictions] work.’
He branded the proposals ‘unnecessary’ and ‘damaging’ and said further restrictions would ‘only amplify those effects’, adding it ‘feels like’ a lockdown by stealth. Conservative Peter Bone told the Daily Mail vaccine passports ‘are nothing more than an identity card’ and do not work.
‘Testing is the way if you want to stop people [spreading Covid].’
Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen slammed Plan B as ‘a complete overreaction not supported by the science or the data’.
‘I’m not voting for Plan B, I didn’t even vote for Plan A, and I certainly will not be supporting any further removal of freedoms from British citizens over a mild variant with a very low hospitalisation rate.’
Rebel ringleader Steve Baker accused the Government of creating a ‘miserable dystopia’ and suggested his party was drifting into authoritarianism.
He said at least 60 Tories will vote against Plan B but it was a ‘foregone conclusion because our useless opposition in name only will continue to support the Government, however authoritarian they are’.
Tory whips will today continue their attempts to quell the revolt, and were engaged in a ‘massive ring round’ over the weekend.
But despite the scale of the rebellion, Plan B is expected to become law as Labour will support the measures tomorrow.
Sir Keir Starmer said the party will vote with the Government – not to support the Prime Minister but the NHS. Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisted yesterday the Government is not introducing a ‘vaccine passport’.
He told BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show: ‘This is not a vaccine passport. These are high-risk events where we ask people either to take a free lateral flow test or to be vaccinated to attend.’
Mr Johnson was also warned of the impact the restrictions will have on hospitality. Clive Watson, chairman of the City Pub Group which operates almost 50 pubs in London and the South East, said: ‘Revenue could take a hit of around 30 per cent – it would be hugely damaging and without government support many businesses will be tipped over the edge.’
Mr Johnson last night turbocharged the booster programme in a bid to beat the Omicron variant.
An ambitious plan to offer a third jab to every adult before the end of the year will see 18million people called forward by January 1 in England, a rate of nearly one million a day.
The army will be drafted in to help and clinic opening hours extended to hit the target.
In an address to the nation last night, the Prime Minister warned that a ‘tidal wave’ of Omicron variant is coming that threatens to ‘overwhelm’ the NHS and lead to ‘very many deaths’ if the population is not boosted.
Announcing a ‘national mission unlike anything we have done before in the vaccination programme’, Mr Johnson said the NHS had to ‘match its best vaccination day so far – and then beat it day after day’.
‘A fortnight ago I said we would offer every eligible adult a booster by the end of January,’ the prime minister said.
‘Today, in light of this Omicron Emergency, I am bringing that target forward by a whole month.
‘Everyone eligible aged 18 and over in England will have the chance to get their booster before the New Year.’
But within minutes of the announcement, the NHS website crashed as thousands flocked to book appointments.
Just over 400,000 booster doses have been given on average each day over the past week in the UK – meaning current efforts will need to be more than doubled to meet the target.
And they will have to go far beyond the previous record on March 20 when 752,308 first doses and 91,977 second doses were given.
Mr Johnson admitted that the focus on the ‘Omicron Emergency Boost’ would mean some other non-urgent appointments will need to be postponed until the New Year.
‘If we don’t do this now, the wave of Omicron could be so big that cancellations and disruptions, like the loss of cancer appointments, would be even greater next year,’ he said.
From today, the booster programme will be open to every adult over 18 who had a second dose of a coronavirus vaccine at least three months ago.
Adults over 30 will be able to book online from today, while over 18s will be able to from Wednesday – but some walk-in appointments will be available immediately.
Mr Johnson said that to assist the ‘emergency operation’ 50 military planning experts will be deployed across every region and NHS staff will be reprioritised to deliver as many jabs as possible.
New vaccination sites will be set up across the country, including mobile pop up sites, and clinic opening hours will be extended to provide more appointments on weekends, early mornings and evenings.
There will also be a national call for thousands more NHS volunteers to come forward and aid the effort.
Mr Johnson urged: ‘If you haven’t yet had a vaccine at all, then please get yourself at least some protection with a jab as quickly as possible.
‘If you’ve already had your booster, encourage your friends and family to do the same. We are a great country. We have the vaccines to protect our people. So let’s do it. Let’s Get Boosted Now.
There were long queues of people waiting to get their booster jab outside vaccination centres across the country over the weekend, including outside the Merseyway Centre in Stockport and walk-in centres in Ealing and Wandsworth in London yesterday.
Ministers believe boosters are the best way to tackle the threat posed by the Omicron variant.
Data published last week by the UK Health Security Agency showed two doses of a Covid vaccine are not enough to stop people catching the mutant strain.
But a third dose offers more than 70 per cent protection against symptomatic infection and is even better at preventing hospitalisation and death.
However, even a single dose of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine is still likely to provide some protection against severe disease.
In other developments yesterday:
:: The UK recorded 48,854 new Covid cases and 52 additional deaths. In the last week, 360,480 cases were confirmed, marking an 11.9 per cent increase on the previous seven days. There were 834 deaths in the last week, an increase of 0.5 per cent.
:: Double-jabbed people identified as a contact of someone with Covid-19 will be told to take a daily rapid test for seven days from Tuesday – replacing the requirement for Omicron contacts to isolate for 10 days.
:: A backbench revolt against Plan B restrictions continued to grow, with more than 60 Tories expected to rebel against the measures in a Commons showdown on Tuesday.
:: A report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine that England could face as many as 75,000 deaths from the Omicron variant by May was called into question by experts.
Last night the Covid alert level was raised following a rapid increase in Omicron cases being recorded.
The UK’s four chief medical officers and NHS England’s national medical director recommended to ministers that the country move from Level 3 to Level 4.
Level 4 means ‘transmission is high and direct Covid-19 pressure on healthcare services is widespread and substantial or rising’.
The health chiefs said that the emergence of the Omicron variants adds ‘additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services’.
In a joint statement, they added: ‘Early evidence shows that Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced.
‘Data on severity will become clearer over the coming weeks but hospitalisations from Omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly.’
Official figures showed another 1,239 Omicron cases had been detected, marking the biggest daily rise to date. It brings the total number of confirmed cases to 3,137.
Yesterday Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency, confirmed that ‘a small number of people’ were now in hospital in Britain with Omicron.
But officials refused to reveal the actual number or severity of the cases.
Dr Hopkins said: ‘We have had reports of a small number of people going to hospital who have tested positive with the Omicron variant, we are investigating them carefully and will update in due course.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said last night: ‘It’s more important than ever to get Britain boosted to protect our NHS and save lives.
‘The arrival of the worrying new variant is a reminder that the pandemic is not over. And vaccines are the best weapon in our fight.’
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