Prime minister Boris Johnson has introduced ‘Plan B’ coronavirus restrictions in England, including asking workers to once again work from home if possible.
Face masks will have to be worn in some public venues including cinemas and theatres from Friday as part of the new measures.
Also from Friday, Covid passes proving vaccination or a negative test will also be introduced for unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 5,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people.
Speaking at a Covid news conference at Downing Street, the Prime Minister said it was now “proportionate and responsible” to move to Plan B measures in England following the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
As of Monday, guidance to work from home will be introduced.
“Go to work if you must, but work from home if you can,” said Johnson.
Also speaking at the conference, England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty said the data “is now clear that Omicron is going up very fast,” with the Plan B measures aiming to “slow things down”.
Melanie Leech, chief executive of British Property Federation, said: “Public health is paramount, but we’d hope that guidance on working from home would be kept under review against a rigorous risk assessment and take into account the crucial role that office workers play in city centre economies.
“A vast number of jobs across the retail, leisure, hospitality and culture sectors that have been protected by the furlough scheme now depend on footfall from nearby offices. Huge investment has gone into making sure that offices are safe environments and we are widely seeing the undoubted mental health and productivity benefits of work colleagues being able to meet together again.”
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company, said: “While our top priority remains the safety and wellbeing of our customers and colleagues, and we fully support mandatory mask-wearing in shops, a renewed ‘work from home’ order during the most important trading period of the year would be a hammer blow for our retail and leisure tenants. Many businesses have committed time and money in their Christmas plans in a bid to make up for last year’s losses - vital investment that they won’t be able to recoup.
“In the event of further restrictions, the Government must provide immediate clarity on the implications of Plan B for the retail and hospitality industry, and whether additional financial support will be offered to struggling businesses. Our hope is that a balance can be struck between keeping everyone safe and supporting the high street in its time of need. Otherwise, we risk yet another miserable Christmas for struggling businesses and their staff.”