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Boris pushes the button on Plan B with wfh and more masks

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What are the new Covid rules in England?

Boris Johnson announced this evening that the Government is implementing its Covid Plan B. 

It means: 

WFH

The return of work from home guidance. People will be told to work from home in England from Monday if they are able to.

Face mask

Face masks will be made compulsory in most public indoor venues including in cinemas and theatres from this Friday. They will not be required in pubs, restaurants and gyms.

Vaccine passports 

The NHS Covid pass will be compulsory to gain access to nightclubs and other large venues where large crowds gather. 

This will apply to all unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people. 

Two vaccine doses will be treated as fully-vaccinated but this will be kept under review because of the booster programme. 

A negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient. 

This requirement will be rolled out in one week’s time to give businesses time to prepare. 

Contact testing 

Contacts of Omicron cases will be told to take daily coronavirus tests instead of having to self-isolate. They will have to quarantine if they test positive.    

Boris Johnson tonight pushed the button on Plan B coronavirus curbs amid fears that Omicron could be causing 1,000 hospital admissions a day by the end of the year.

At a Downing Street press conference, the PM declared that people should once again work from home where possible, as well as extending use of masks and introducing Covid passports for nightclubs.

But Mr Johnson faces an uphill struggle to win over the public with No10 itself in meltdown over allegations of an illegal Christmas party a year ago.

The premier said it was necessary to move to Plan B to ‘buy time’ for the NHS and to learn more about the new strain. 

‘It has become increasingly clear that Omicron is growing much faster than the previous Delta variant and is spreading rapidly all around the world,’ he said.

While 568 cases had been confirmed in the UK ‘the true number is certain to be much higher’ – potentially as many as 10,000.

‘Most worryingly, there is evidence that the doubling time of Omicron could currently be between two and three days.’

Masks will be required in venues such as cinemas and theatres from Friday, but hospitality will be exempt. 

Mr Johnson said that negative lateral flow tests will be acceptable as well as NHS Covid passports at venues such as nightclubs and large events. 

‘We will give businesses a week’s notice so this will come into force in a week’s time,’ he said.

The PM said from Monday people should go to workplace if they ‘must’ but work from home ‘if you can’. 

Mr Johnson paid tribute to his former spokeswoman Allegra Stratton, who resigned this afternoon after a bombshell video emerged of her giggling about a potentially lockdown-busting festive gathering in Downing Street a year ago.

He said there was ‘no excuse’ for the ‘frivolity’ that aides had displayed in the footage, but said Ms Stratton had been a ‘fine colleague’ and contributed to the COP26 summit.  

Pushed repeatedly on why people should listen to his urging when his own staff were accused of flouting rules, the PM said: ‘The British people… can see the vital importance of the medical information that we are giving. They can see the need to take it to heart and to act on it.’ 

Mr Johnson also flatly denied that the Plan B announcement had been brought forward as a ‘dead cat’ tactic to distract attention from the party scandal. He said the impact of the variant had become ‘unmissable’. 

The PM said there would be ‘proper sanctions’ if the Cabinet Secretary found staff had broken lockdown rules, but he said ‘all the evidence I can see is that people within this building have stayed within the rules’.  

Medical chief Chris Whitty told the press conference that the public should ‘separate’ the issues at No10 from the ‘logic’ of what they were being urged to do. 

He also tried to reassure Britons that the struggle against Covid is not ‘back to square one’.

Mr Johnson said there was a ‘strong possibility’ that it would soon become clear that a booster jab on top of previous vaccination will be able to hold Omicron ‘in equilibrium’ so the country can ‘move forward’.

And he insisted that there is no need to cancel school nativity plays or taking children out before the end of term. 

Christmas parties can go ahead with everyone ‘exercising due caution’, the premier said. He added that ‘getting a test before you go’ would be sensible. 

In advice that seemed to force Mr Johnson’s hand, SAGE has warned it is ‘highly likely’ Omicron will make up the majority of British infections within ‘a few weeks’ and put ‘unsustainable pressure’ on the NHS.

Leaked minutes from SAGE’s emergency meeting today, seen by the BBC, showed that the group also expect the highly-evolved strain to trigger several thousand admissions per day at a peak in January if it is allowed to spread unchecked. 

The ‘Covid O’ Cabinet committee met for crunch talks this afternoon before the Cabinet signed off on plans for a blanket order to work from home where possible, more mask-wearing, vaccine passports and stricter isolation rules for close contacts of infected people. 

But the crisis comes at the same time as the Prime Minister faces increasing hostility from his own party in light of claims Downing Street staff held a lockdown-breaking Christmas party in No10 last year, while millions were unable to see their loved ones.

In another grim sign for Mr Johnson, Health Secretary Sajid Javid was heckled by Tories in the Commons as he made a statement laying out the changes.

One MP shouted ‘resign’ as he announced the move on Covid passports – which are particularly unpopular among a certain section of the government benches.   

At a Downing Street press conference, the PM declared that people should once again work from home where possible, as well as extending use of masks and introducing Covid passports for nightclubs

Mr Johnson said tonight: ‘I said right at the beginning of this pandemic… I didn’t want us to have a society and a culture where we forced people to get vaccinated.

‘I don’t think that’s ever been the way we do things in this country.’

But he admitted there would need to be ‘a national conversation’ about how to protect the public, particularly those who choose not get vaccinated for any reason.

The Prime Minister also dismissed making changes to the rules that currently require people travelling from red list countries to quarantine in hotels.

He said the red list was something the Government was looking at, but added: ‘It’s been very important in the immediate response to Omicron to have very tough border measures to slow the arrival of the variant in this country.’

On Ms Stratton, Mr Johnson said: ‘Allegra Stratton has resigned and I wanted to pay tribute to her because she has been, in spite of what everybody has seen, and again, I make no excuses for the frivolity with which the subject was handed in that rehearsal that people saw in that clip,’ the Prime Minister told a press briefing.

‘There can be no excuse for it. I can totally understand how infuriating it was.

‘But I want to say that Allegra has been a fine colleague, has achieved a great deal in her time in Government, and was a particularly effective spokesman for Cop26 – she coined the coal, cars, cash, trees agenda and helped to marshal and rally the world behind the agreement.

‘If you’ll forgive me, I wanted to say that because it is a sad day for her, as well as an infuriating event for many people around the county.’

In the Commons, Mr Javid said: ‘We take these steps with a heavy heart, but we do so confident that we’re doing everything in our power to keep our nation safe this winter.

‘We’ve come so far over the course of this year thanks to the defences we’ve built against this deadly virus.

‘Now, as we face this new threat, we must draw on the same spirit that has got us here, strengthening our defences and thinking about what we can do to help get this virus under control.’

Mr Javid said the new restrictions will be reviewed on January 5, and they will all sunset on January 26. 

There has been growing pressure on the Government to tighten restrictions after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 568 today, with the highly evolved variant now in every country in the UK and almost every region of England. 

Experts warn thousands of cases are flying under the radar because not all samples are analysed for variants and Omicron is estimated to be doubling every two or three days — much faster than when Delta exploded on the scene.

There are currently 757 daily hospital admissions across the UK and 680 in England. SAGE members had previously suggested that 1,200 daily admissions would be the trigger point for more restrictions with Delta.

Not a single one of the UK’s confirmed Omicron cases has been hospitalised with the virus but it takes several weeks to fall seriously unwell and there are early indications in South Africa that it might cause milder illness than past variants.

But even if the new strain is milder, experts warn that if it can infect significantly more people than Delta, it will cause bigger surges in hospital admissions than its predecessor. 

In the leaked SAGE minutes, seen by the BBC, the group said: ‘With the speed of growth seen, decision makers will need to consider response measures urgently to reduce transmission if the aim is to reduce the likelihood of unsustainable pressure on the NHS.’

The scientists insisted that tightening restrictions will give the UK precious time to delay the wave and get more boosters into arms. They said they expect jabs to hold up against severe disease and death.

Earlier, Professor Neil Ferguson, a key SAGE member whose modelling prompted the initial lockdown last spring, today admitted that another full-blown shutdown could be on the cards to tackle Omicron.

He said light measures like WFH ‘wouldn’t stop it but it could slow it down’ and extend the doubling time to five or six days. ‘That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it actually is potentially a lot in terms of allowing us to characterise this virus better and boost population immunity,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. 

It came as Covid cases jumped 6 per cent today and breached 50,000 for the fourth time in a week. Government figures show there were 51,342 positive tests in the last 24 hours, up 6.1 per cent on last Wednesday’s 48,374. 

Deaths have fallen week-on-week however, with the number of lives lost to Covid falling by 5.8 per cent during the same time-frame to 161. Hospitalisations rose by 3.3 per cent, with the latest figures showing there were 729 admissions as of December 4, the most recent day UK-wide figures are available for.

The PM was flanked as usual by medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty (left) and Patrick Vallance (right)

The PM was flanked as usual by medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty (left) and Patrick Vallance (right)

Whitty told the press conference that the public should 'separate' the issues at No10 from the 'logic' of what they were being urged to do

Whitty told the press conference that the public should ‘separate’ the issues at No10 from the ‘logic’ of what they were being urged to do

There are currently 757 daily hospital admissions across the UK and 680 in England (England shown above). SAGE members had previously suggested that 1,200 daily admissions would be the trigger point for more restrictions with Delta

There are currently 757 daily hospital admissions across the UK and 680 in England (England shown above). SAGE members had previously suggested that 1,200 daily admissions would be the trigger point for more restrictions with Delta

There is growing pressure on the Government to tighten restrictions after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 568 today, with the highly evolved variant now in every country in the UK and almost every region of England

There is growing pressure on the Government to tighten restrictions after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 568 today, with the highly evolved variant now in every country in the UK and almost every region of England

In the bombshell video a No 10 aide asks a question about 'a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night', to which Allegra Stratton laughed and replied: 'I went home.' Downing Stree

In the bombshell video a No 10 aide asks a question about ‘a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night’, to which Allegra Stratton laughed and replied: ‘I went home.’ Downing Stree

The leaked video of No10 staff rehearsing for a press conference that detonated the Christmas party row 

In the bombshell video a No 10 aide asks a question about 'a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night', to which Allegra Stratton laughed and replied: 'I went home.' Downing Stree

In the bombshell video a No 10 aide asks a question about ‘a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night’, to which Allegra Stratton laughed and replied: ‘I went home.’ Downing Stree

Downing Street’s had hoped that the row over the alleged lockdown-busting Christmas party a year ago was fading away.

But the situation escalated dramatically last night when ITV News was leaked footage from a mock press conference.

It shows the PM’s aides putting his then-press secretary Allegra Stratton through her paces. She had been preparing to start hosting televised briefings for journalists weeks later – although that idea was embarrassingly shelved.

And damagingly one of the questions thrown at her during the session on December 22 referenced the ‘party’ four days earlier.   

Ed Oldfield (PM’s special adviser): ‘I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?’

Allegra Stratton: ‘I went home (laughs)… hold on, hold on, erm, err…’

Ed Oldfield: ‘Would the Prime Minister condone having a Christmas party?’

Allegra Stratton: ‘(laughs) What’s the answer?’

Ed Oldfield: ‘I don’t know!’

Downing Street Employee (unidentified): ‘It wasn’t a party… it was cheese and wine.’

Allegra Stratton: ‘Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting.’

(Everyone laughs)

Downing Street Employee: ‘No! … was joking!’

Allegra Stratton: ‘(laughs) This is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting… (laughs) and it was not socially distanced. Umm one more and then we’ll… one more. Anybody have any questions today?’

Ms Stratton tearfully announced she had quit her £125,000 a year role offering a ‘profound apology’ for appearing to ‘make light’ of Covid rules. 

In emotional comments to journalists near her £1.5million London home, Ms Stratton said: ‘My remarks seemed to make light of rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention.

‘I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days.’ 

In the video, Ms Stratton suggested she had not personally attended the party – quipping that she ‘went home’ instead.  

Mr Johnson opened a raucous PMQs earlier by saying sorry for the footage of Ms Stratton and other staff joking about the gathering which happened on December 18 last year, during lockdown.

He said the government’s top civil servant Simon Case – who is not believed to have attended the party – would be looking into the situation. 

Mr Johnson said he was ‘sickened’ and ‘disciplinary action’ would be taken against any staff found to have breached the regulations, but insisted he had been ‘repeatedly’ assured the rules had been followed. 

The premier appealed for the public to focus on the threat from the mutant strain – with Plan B measures expected to be confirmed as early as this afternoon. But Keir Starmer shot back that Mr Johnson had lost the ‘moral authority’ to impose restrictions.  

Tory MPs also hammered the PM by branding the Covid switch a ‘diversionary tactic’ from the No10 party row, while Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross warned he will have to resign if he knew about the gathering when he issued denials.

Meanwhile, former chief aide Dominic Cummings has waded in by alleging that there was a party in Mr Johnson’s grace-and-favour flat on November 13 last year, the day he was ousted from Downing Street.

Mr Case will also look at claimed former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson hosted a bash during the festive season, but significantly he will not consider any other events – meaning nothing the PM personally attended is in scope. 

In her statement tonight, a weeping Ms Stratton said: ‘The British people have made immense sacrifices in the battle against COVID-19.

‘I now fear that my comments in the leaked video on 20 of December last year have now become a distraction in that fight.’

Ms Stratton, who has been the PM’s spokesman for COP26 since the idea of her doing daily televised briefings was ditched, went on: ‘Working in government is an immense privilege. I tried to do right by you all. To behave with civility and decency and act to the high standards you expect of No10.

‘I will always be proud of what was achieved at COP26 in Glasgow and the progress made on coal, cars, cash and trees.

‘This country and the PMs leadership on climate change and nature will make a lasting difference to the whole world.

‘It has been an honour to play a part in that. I understand the anger and frustration that people feel.

‘To all of you who lost loved ones, who endured intolerable loneliness, and who struggled with your businesses, I am truly sorry. This afternoon I am offering my resignation to the Prime Minister.’

Kicking off the clashes in the House earlier, Mr Johnson said: ‘I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing No 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures, and I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules because I was also furious to see that clip.

‘I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country and I apologise for the impression that it gives.

‘But I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken, and that is what I have been repeatedly assured.

‘I have asked the cabinet secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible – and it goes without saying that if those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.’ 

Mr Johnson said No10 would hand over any relevant evidence to the police if they ask for it.

But the Labour Leader said: ‘An internal investigation into what happened – the situation is as clear as day. I thought last week was bad enough.

‘Surely the Prime Minister hasn’t now going to start pretending that the first he knew about this was last night? Surely we have all watched the video of the Prime Minister’s staff including his personal spokesperson.

‘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.

‘It is obvious was happened. Ant and Dec are ahead of the Prime Minister on this. The Prime Minister has been caught red-handed. Why doesn’t he end the investigation right now by just admitting it?’

In full: Allegra Stratton’s tearful resignation statement   

The British people have made immense sacrifices in the battle against COVID-19.

I now fear that my comments in the leaked video on 20 of December last year have now become a distraction in that fight.

My remarks seemed to make light of the rules.

Rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention.

I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days and now for my profound apologies to all of you at home.

Working in government is an immense privilege. I tried to do right by you all. To behave with civility and decency and act to the high standards you expect of No10.

I will always be proud of what was achieved at COP26 in Glasgow and the progress made on coal, cars, cash and trees.

This country and the PMs leadership on climate change and nature will make a lasting difference to the whole world.

It has been an honour to play a part in that.

I understand the anger and frustration that people feel.

To all of you who lost loved ones, who endured intolerable loneliness, and who struggled with your businesses, I am truly sorry.

This afternoon I am offering my resignation to the Prime Minister.

Mr Johnson replied: ‘Because I have been repeatedly assured that no rules were broken. I understand public anxiety about this… but there is a risk of doing a grave injustice to people who have frankly obeyed the rules.

‘That is why the Cabinet Secretary will be conducting an investigation, and that is why there will be requisite disciplinary action if necessary.’

In one brutal attack, Sir Keir contrasted Mr Johnson’s leadership with that of the Queen.

‘Her Majesty the Queen sat alone when she marked the passing of the man she’d been married to for 73 years. Leadership, sacrifice – that’s what gives leaders the moral authority to lead,’ the Labour leader said.

‘Does the Prime Minister think he has the moral authority to lead and to ask the British people to stick to the rules?’

Mr Johnson accused Sir Keir of trying to ‘muddy the waters, to confuse the public and to cause needless confusion about the guidance’ during the pandemic. 

Conservative MPs have been turning on the PM, with demands for him to provide an ‘explanation’ and even warnings that misleading parliament on what happened will be a ‘resigning matter’. 

One government source told MailOnline that the situation was an ‘absolute joke’, adding: ‘A friend said to me ”you look like a bunch of c***s”. It was hard to argue.’ 

Another MP said of Mr Johnson’s leadership: ‘I’m tired of it. He has to go. Clean sweep. It’s unsustainable’. A third said: ‘It confirms my suspicion of the sheer arrogance and hypocrisy of those orchestrating lockdown measures.’ 

Baroness Warsi, a former Cabinet minister turned critic, said ‘every minister, parliamentarian and staffer’ at the alleged party ‘must resign now’. And former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said his stance was not ‘remotely defensible’.

Mr Johnson had hoped to grab the news agenda this week with a slew of crime measures, after weeks of torrid sleaze headlines. 

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid pulled out out of interviews this morning following the emergence of the footage showing the PM’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton laughing about the lockdown-busting gathering last year. 

In total, there are 46,000 Covid cases on average each day in the UK and data from the Covid Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) suggests the new strain is already behind around one in 66 of them, or 1.4 per cent

In total, there are 46,000 Covid cases on average each day in the UK and data from the Covid Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) suggests the new strain is already behind around one in 66 of them, or 1.4 per cent

Infections of the highly evolved variant are doubling every two or three days. The above graph shows how the number of daily cases of Omicron could breach the 100,000 barrier before New Year's Day, if that pace continues

Infections of the highly evolved variant are doubling every two or three days. The above graph shows how the number of daily cases of Omicron could breach the 100,000 barrier before New Year’s Day, if that pace continues

Professor Neil Ferguson warns a full lockdown might be needed to stop Omicron overwhelming NHS 

‘Professor Lockdown‘ Neil Ferguson today admitted that another nationwide shutdown could be on the cards to tackle Omicron as he warned the super variant will be dominant before Christmas.

The Government scientist, whose modelling bounced No10 into the original lockdown last spring, said the return of stay-at-home orders ‘certainly might be possible’ if the mutant strain threatens to overwhelm the NHS

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘There is a rationale, just epidemiologically, to try and slow this down, to buy us more time principally to get boosters into people’s arms because we do think people who are boosted will have the best level of protection possible, but also to buy us more time to really better characterise the threat.’

Asked outright if a lockdown could be reimposed, he said: ‘Clearly if the consensus is it’s highly likely that the NHS is overwhelmed then it will be for the Government to decide what to do about that but it’s a difficult situation to be in of course. It certainly might be possible at the current time.’ 

It is unclear how the British public would react to social restrictions over Christmas after fresh allegations surfaced this week that Boris Johnson held a rule-breaking lockdown party in Downing Street last December, when millions of Britons were unable to visit loved ones.

With bereaved families branded the revelations a ‘bullet to the chest’, Scotland Yard is set to probe the exchanges which took place during a rehearsal for a media briefing. 

The footage of Ms Stratton was filmed on December 22 last year – four days after the alleged ‘boozy’ party and when London was under strict Tier 3 coronavirus curbs. The revelation follows a week of tortured denials from No 10 that there was a ‘party’ – even though dozens of staff allegedly exchanged ‘secret Santa’ gifts and drank past midnight at an event said to have included party games.

Even Ant and Dec got in on the act last night, mocking Boris Johnson over the Downing Street Christmas party on I’m a Celebrity 2021 and saying: ‘Evening Prime Minister… for now.’ 

Police are yet to launch a criminal investigation – but will be reviewing the footage before a decision is taken.  It is understood that a senior officer looking at the matter will now consider the contents of the video in the coming days.

‘We are aware of footage obtained by ITV News relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at a Government building in December 2020’, a Met spokesman said. 

‘It is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid-19 regulations, however the footage will form part of our considerations’. 

The damning clip, which was leaked to ITV News, shows Ms Stratton and aides joking about cheese and wine and suggesting the ‘fictional’ event was ‘not socially distanced’. Miss Stratton, who is still on the No 10 payroll earning £125,000 a year, was practising for planned TV media briefings, which were later axed.

At the time of the alleged event, on December 18, Christmas parties were outlawed – on pain of £10,000 fines – and many families were even barred from visiting dying loved ones. Mixing indoors with people from other households was banned in the capital.

No 10 was still insisting last night that there had been ‘no Christmas party’ and that coronavirus rules were followed at all times. But ministers were aghast at the crass video, with one privately describing it as ‘appalling’.

Insiders fear the release of the toxic footage could unleash a wave of public anger, similar to the fury over the trip to Barnard Castle by Dominic Cummings at the height of the first lockdown. 

A Downing Street insider acknowledged the video was a ‘disaster’, adding: ‘No 10 aides laugh at their party as thousands cry for their dead.’

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted ‘we do follow the rules on Covid’ as she was questioned about the alleged party at a Chatham House event.

She said: ‘As to alleged events in Number 10, I don’t know the detail of what happened.

‘I know that the Prime Minister’s spokesman answered those questions in detail yesterday and I am sure there will be further discussion of that issue.’

Asked why citizens should trust an administration that did not follow the rules, she added: ‘We do follow the rules on Covid.’

But ‘I’m not aware of the precise circumstances and I know the Prime Minister’s spokesman has addressed that issue’. 

Pfizer's results are based on a laboratory study using the blood of 20 people, who were either double-jabbed three weeks earlier (left) or triple-jabbed one month earlier with its vaccine (right). The graph shows antibody levels against different strains of the virus: Wuhan (green), Beta (blue), Delta (orange) and Omicron (red). The results showed the third dose triggered a 25-fold jump in antibody levels against Omicron from 6 to 154. Pfizer said this equates to a 'high efficacy' based on data on other variants. The level of neutralising antibodies against Omicron after three jabs was 154, compared to 155 against the Wuhan strain after two jabs. But the figure was 60 per cent lower than levels seen for three doses against Delta (339)

Pfizer’s results are based on a laboratory study using the blood of 20 people, who were either double-jabbed three weeks earlier (left) or triple-jabbed one month earlier with its vaccine (right). The graph shows antibody levels against different strains of the virus: Wuhan (green), Beta (blue), Delta (orange) and Omicron (red). The results showed the third dose triggered a 25-fold jump in antibody levels against Omicron from 6 to 154. Pfizer said this equates to a ‘high efficacy’ based on data on other variants. The level of neutralising antibodies against Omicron after three jabs was 154, compared to 155 against the Wuhan strain after two jabs. But the figure was 60 per cent lower than levels seen for three doses against Delta (339)

Researchers at the African Health Research Institute (AHRI) found the Pfizer vaccine triggers forty times fewer antibodies capable of fighting the Omicron variant compared to an older version of the virus. The graph shows that antibody levels — scientifically known as geometric mean titer (GMT) FRNT50 — among 12 people jumped to an average of 1,321 when they were exposed to an older strain of the virus (D614G). But when scientists tested their blood against Omicron, antibody levels dropped to an average of 32, marking a 41.4-fold decrease. Six of the volunteers were double-jabbed with Pfizer (orange), while the other half were double-jabbed with Pfizer and had previously tested positive for Covid. People previously infected with Covid had the most protection

Researchers at the African Health Research Institute (AHRI) found the Pfizer vaccine triggers forty times fewer antibodies capable of fighting the Omicron variant compared to an older version of the virus. The graph shows that antibody levels — scientifically known as geometric mean titer (GMT) FRNT50 — among 12 people jumped to an average of 1,321 when they were exposed to an older strain of the virus (D614G). But when scientists tested their blood against Omicron, antibody levels dropped to an average of 32, marking a 41.4-fold decrease. Six of the volunteers were double-jabbed with Pfizer (orange), while the other half were double-jabbed with Pfizer and had previously tested positive for Covid. People previously infected with Covid had the most protection 

Pfizer’s booster vaccine CAN beat Omicron

Pfizer‘s Covid booster vaccine triggers a 25-fold spike in antibody levels against Omicron, the drug firm claimed today but it admitted two doses may not be enough to thwart the mutant strain.

The vaccine manufacturer argued three injections provide a ‘more robust’ defence against the variant, which has sown chaos since it was first identified in South Africa last month.

A third jab triggers a similar antibody response against Omicron as two doses against previous strains of Covid, according to preliminary laboratory tests. It also ‘strongly increases’ T cell levels, offering the immune system an extra boost to protect against severe disease. 

But Pfizer also insisted that two doses should still be enough to slash rates of hospitalisations and deaths, in the event of fresh waves triggered by the super-mutant strain.

And millions of doses of a new version of its vaccine tailored to the mutant strain — which has already been developed — can be ready by March if the current crop of jabs do not provide enough protection against Omicron. Pfizer’s boss said they will know within weeks if it is needed and all of its production can be switched to the new vaccine. 

 It comes as two separate studies released today show that vaccines appear to work better than expected against Omicron, which is quickly spreading in Britain and has left No10 on the brink of resorting to its ‘Plan B’ to save the NHS from being overwhelmed this winter.

A South African research institute found people fully-vaccinated with Pfizer make up to 40-times fewer antibodies against Omicron compared to other variants. But the lead author of the research, the first of four laboratory-based studies released in the last 24 hours, insisted the results are ‘better than expected’.

Another study by Swedish virologists also found there is a drop in the body’s ability to neutralise Omicron after jabs. But the Karolinska Institute researchers insisted the decline was not seen in everyone, with one of the paper authors saying the fall was ‘lower than feared’. 

Meanwhile, a World Health Organization official insisted the vaccines should still work against Omicron, admitting that the strain appears to be milder than its rivals, such as Beta and Delta. 

Dr Michael Ryan, the agency’s emergencies director, argued the current jabs ‘have proved effective against all the variants so far’ in preventing severe disease. He added that ‘there’s no reason to expect’ vaccines would suddenly fail against Omicron.  

One Tory MP told MailOnline that Mr Cummings and his allies might have been involved in leaking the video. ‘It has to be someone senior. Who had them and kept them this long? It does feel like a Cummings operation,’ they said.

Becky Kummer, of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: ‘There are simply no words to describe how upsetting and shameful it is to hear Boris Johnson’s team laughing about breaking the rules they had made, while others followed them and could only say goodbye to their loved ones through a screen. It’s the behaviour of people who think they’re above us.’    

The clip, obtained by ITV news, shows Ms Stratton, then the PM’s press secretary, and Ed Oldfield, No10’s head of digital, rehearsing a question and answer session in the No9 briefing room.

In it Oldfield asks a question about ‘a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night’, to which Ms Stratton laughs and replies: ‘I went home.’ 

When he asks if the Prime Minister would condone such a party, Ms Stratton appears unsure how to respond and asks the room: ‘What’s the answer?’

A third voice can be heard saying ‘it wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine’, before Ms Stratton added: ‘It was a business meeting … this fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.’

The footage was released after Boris Johnson had earlier refused to answer questions about the gathering, with questions raised over whether it breached social distancing rules in place at the time.

The Metropolitan Police has said it was aware of the footage and is considering an investigation into the alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations in government buildings last December. 

Asked about it on a visit to a London prison yesterday, Mr Johnson would only say that all the rules had been followed at the time. Other ministers have refused to confirm if a party happened or not.

Sir Keir Starmer responded to the footage of Downing St aides joking about the party by saying that Boris Johnson needed to ‘come clean and apologise’.

The Labour leader said: ‘People across the country followed the rules even when that meant being separated from their families, locked down and – tragically for many – unable to say goodbye to their loved ones.

‘They had a right to expect that the government was doing the same.

‘To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful. The Prime Minister now needs to come clean, and apologise. 

‘It cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else.’

In response to the footage, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.’

The leaked footage was shot in the media room at 9 Downing Street, which was refurbished at a cost of £2.6 million in preparation for the televised broadcasts before the plan was ditched. 

No10 announced last week that it plans to ramp up the booster programme to 500,000 jabs per day and offer a third dose to all 53million British adults by the end of January to shield against the incoming wave. But the scheme already appears to be stalling with less than 330,000 delivered across Britain yesterday and just 380,000 administered each day on average. At the current rate, all eligible adults will not be boosted until February 10

No10 announced last week that it plans to ramp up the booster programme to 500,000 jabs per day and offer a third dose to all 53million British adults by the end of January to shield against the incoming wave. But the scheme already appears to be stalling with less than 330,000 delivered across Britain yesterday and just 380,000 administered each day on average. At the current rate, all eligible adults will not be boosted until February 10

Parties were banned under Covid restrictions at the time. Mr Johnson has not confirmed or denied reports that members of his Downing Street team staged a party on December 18 last year when London was under Tier 3 restrictions but he has insisted that no rules were broken.

‘A nest of singing birds’ and a string of green gaffes: Allegra Stratton, Boris’ short-lived press secretary

Allegra Stratton has frequently been the story since she was brought in by Boris Johnson – with a string of gaffes and a description of No10 as ‘a nest of singing birds’.

The former Guardian and BBC journalist became the Prime Minister’s press secretary in October last year, when the idea was to hold daily White House-style televised press conferences.

But the plans were dropped six months later and she was given a consolation role as the PM’s spokesman at the COP environmental summit.

Since then she has regularly raised eyebrows, urging people to join the Green Party and advising against rinsing plates before putting them in the dishwasher.

She was even forced to admit she drove a diesel car because the infrastructure was not in place to switch to an electric vehicle – even though her role was to promote the Government’s green agenda.

In February, Miss Stratton was forced to deny reports of strains with the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie, saying: ‘That’s completely mental. Crazy. I love Carrie and would do anything for her. When we all go out for a drink she is just the best fun imaginable. We are all a nest of singing birds.’

She worked as political correspondent for the Guardian until 2012 when she became political editor of BBC2’s Newsnight.

She was Rishi Sunak’s director of strategic communications from April to October 2020. Her joining the PM’s team caused a bust-up in Downing Street that led to the departure of communications director Lee Cain. 

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab reignited the party row yesterday after he said it would have been a clear breach of Covid rules at the time if Mr Johnson’s staff held a party in Number 10 in the run-up to last Christmas. 

The PM yesterday insisted no rules were broken, after the Times reported that staff wore festive jumpers and were asked to bring ‘secret Santa’ gifts.

They were reported to have brought alcohol and food to the event said to have been attended by dozens of colleagues

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman has insisted ‘there was not a party’ but the Prime Minister declined to characterise the event during a visit to a prison in London on Tuesday.

‘What I can tell you is that all the guidelines were observed, continue to be observed,’ he told reporters.

Asked if he investigated personally, Mr Johnson said: ‘I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.’

The spokesman later added that ‘our position has not changed’ following Mr Johnson’s comments.

Last night, several families who lost loved ones over the Christmas period last year vented their fury at the latest developments in shambolic party saga, calling it a ‘betrayal’ of families who followed the rules.

Louisa Backway, whose father died of prostrate cancer after being unable to spend his last Christmas with his children and grandchildren, said she and her family are ‘furious’ after watching the video.

‘To know now that I sacrificed the last time that my dad could see his grandchildren, the last time that I could see my dad when he was well and himself, I can’t get that time back,’ she told ITV News. 

Referring to Mr Johsnson, Louisa added: ‘I probably can’t really say what I think about him right now, because I’m just, I’m just so angry, so angry. And I’m sure many people are.’ 

Trisha Greenhalgh, a Professor in Primary Care, took to social media to recall her heartbreak as her mother died on Christmas without any family by her side.

Addressing her tweet to Allegra Stratton, the Oxford lecturer wrote: ‘On the day you partied, my mother called me, breathless and feverish. I didn’t visit. On the day you joked, she was admitted to hospital. I didn’t visit.

‘As you celebrated Christmas, she died without family by her side. I promise you, it wasn’t funny.’ 

Ministers are yet to explain how the alleged bash complied with the rules in place at the time, despite coming under pressure since an initial report in the Daily Mirror.

The newspaper said two events took place in No 10 in the run-up to the festive season last year, including Mr Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November’s lockdown. 

While Mr Johnson has stuck by his explanation that rules were obeyed, several Cabinet colleagues have swerved questions about the party.  

Health Secretary Sajid Javid faced questions on the issue as he faced his new Labour shadow, Wes Streeting, the MP for Ilford North, in the Commons yesterday.

‘Residents in Ilford are this week being prosecuted for holding an indoor gathering of two or more people on December 18, 2020, and rightly so,’ Mr Streeting said.

‘Isn’t it time that the Government comes clean about the event in Downing Street on that same day, admit they broken the rules and apologise? Or does the Secretary of State believe, as the PM appears to, that it is one for rule and another for everyone else?’

Mr Javid replied only to say: ‘In terms of rules, of course they should apply to everyone, regardless of who they are.’

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse had earlier insisted he had been ‘reassured that all of the regulations were complied with’ as he was grilled over the Downing Street Christmas party row. 

Mr Malthouse clashed with BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter Mishal Husain during a fiery interview as she asked him to make sense of the Government’s position. 

The Tory frontbencher said he is ‘not an investigator’ but he had ‘asked the question was all the regulations compiled with’ and he had been ‘reassured they were’. 

It came as Downing Street said it intends to hold a Christmas party for staff this year.

What were the rules on December 18 last year?

With just days to go until Christmas 2020, Covid restrictions were ramped up as the situation on infections and hospitalisations ‘deteriorated’. 

London, and Downing St at its centre, were moved into a Tier 3 set of restrictions to fight the ‘exponentially increasing’ Covid case rate.

The following rules were put into force on December 17 for London following a review of tiers:

– No mixing of households indoors, or most outdoor places, apart from support bubbles;

– A maximum of six people in some outdoor public spaces (e.g. parks, public gardens);

– Events should not take place;

– People should avoid travelling outside their area, other than where necessary such as for work or education. Reduce the number of journeys where possible; 

– Hospitality is closed, with the exception of sales by takeaway, drive-through or delivery;

– Retail, indoor leisure and personal care are allowed to remain open.

There was to be the saving grace of a five-day relaxation period over Christmas, but this was scrapped just days later after the situation continued to deteriorate.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: ‘We haven’t confirmed any dates at the moment. I think there is an intention to have a Christmas party this year.’

Boris Johnson has insisted that Christmas parties should go ahead this month despite the return of some Covid restrictions to stop the spread of the Omicron variant.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab reignited the party row after he said it would have been a clear breach of Covid rules at the time if Mr Johnson’s staff held a party in Number 10 in the run-up to last Christmas.  

Mr Raab, who is also the Justice Secretary, said he did not know the truth of the reports based on ‘unsubstantiated claims all on the basis of anonymous sources’, but if they turned out to be correct, then there would have been a breach.

He said that ‘if there was a formal party held, of course that is something that is clearly contrary to the guidance’.

Ms Husain asked Mr Malthouse this morning if a hypothetical gathering at the BBC last Christmas involving ‘several dozen of us, drinks, nibbles, party games’ would have been within the rules.

He replied: ‘Well, you are asking me a hypothetical question. I would have said to you you have to abide by the regulations.’

Mr Malthouse said he asked Number 10 ahead of his broadcast round of interviews this morning ‘whether regulations were complied with’ and ‘I was reassured that all of the regulations were complied with’.

Last week The Daily Mirror reported that two events took place in Number 10 last year in the run-up to the festive season.

The first was said to have been a leaving do for a senior aide held in November, when the country was in a second national lockdown, apparently attended by Mr Johnson who gave a speech.

The second was reportedly a staff party in December where, according to multiple reports, party games were played, food and drink were served, and the revelries went on past midnight.

The rules in place in the capital at the time explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it was ‘a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted’.

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