Many people have written to me about further Covid restrictions announced last week which were voted on by MPs on Wednesday this week (14 Dec) – the so called, 'Plan B' in response to the Omicron variant.
The Prime Minister has been clear that there is no road to a zero-Covid Britain (or indeed zero-Covid world), so this is not what is being pursued. The Government cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental wellbeing and the life-chances of our children. That is why a cautious, and hopefully irreversible, roadmap out of lockdown was followed, made possible by the pace and success of the UK vaccination programme. The design of the roadmap was informed by the latest scientific evidence and sought a balance between key social and economic priorities, while preserving the health and safety of this country.
It has been acknowledged that this is more of a precaution as we go into Christmas because there is still a lot unknown about this variant. What we do know, however, from our testing regime is that this variant spreads much quicker than earlier strains, including Delta.
Evidence suggests that the doubling time of Omicron in the UK could be currently between two and three days, compared to seven days for Delta. We also know that our local hospital wards and ICU are full of people who have the virus (most of which are unvaccinated!) but consequently elective surgery is much reduced again.
I must emphasise that there is one thing we already know for sure: right now, our single best defence against Omicron is vaccination, as well as people taking care. Early research from Pfizer suggests that a third dose of their vaccine neutralised the Omicron variant to levels similar to the impact of two doses against the original strain of coronavirus.
Given the need to gather more information, it seems common sense that they take precautionary measures whilst people get their booster jabs.
The regulations ensure these measures won’t be in place longer than necessary. They automatically expire after 6 weeks, (on 26 January, having come into force on 10 and 15 December) and the measures will be reviewed after 3 weeks.
While the situation with this variant may still get better, we know from experience that exponential growth could lead to a large rise in hospitalisations, and therefore sadly in deaths. It is the job of any government to come up with solutions to the challenges we face as a country, factoring in the impact of any proposed measures would have on the economy, people’s health & wellbeing, crime rates, etc. That is why it is now the proportionate and responsible thing to move to Plan B in England and I support the Government’s decision to do so.
Many of you will know that I have been very clear that I do not support domestic COVID passports, and I still do not.
Despite what is being reported, we are not introducing 'vaccine passports' – a negative test is enough. The government listened to concerns from MPs, which included myself, and we are not proceeding with 'vaccine passports' as originally intended in Plan B – instead negative tests will be allowed.
Anyone will be able to attend mass events and nightclubs if they show proof of a negative lateral flow test, regardless of vaccination status. Unvaccinated people can get lateral flow tests for free from gov.uk or pharmacies and take them at home. People who have had two vaccine doses will not need to take a test.
Let me also be clear that Plan B is not lockdown. There are no business closures and no restrictions on social gatherings. Work from home is in guidance – there is no mandatory stay at home order.
The only legal restrictions are mandatory face masks in most indoor public places and requiring proof of a negative test or double vaccination to enter some venues (specifically nightclubs and mass events, but not pubs or restaurants).
I must say that whilst these seem like new restrictions in the UK, most are already practiced anyway. Currently, if you go to a large event (a football match or concert, for example) they
already ask you to show that you’ve been vaccinated or had a negative test. Similarly, many are still working from home, and wearing masks in confined spaces is a small price to pay.
The alternative is to make COVID vaccinations mandatory which, in my view, is absolutely not the right way to go.
You go to Germany, they have compulsory vaccination with the unvaccinated not allowed in public places. Unvaccinated people are also limited to meetings with their immediate family. Olaf Scholz is saying that they will legally enforce mandatory vaccinations.
You go to the Netherlands, they have had a partial lockdown with hospitality closing at 5pm, limited to 3 visitors in your home and have COVID passports in place.
Austria are in full lockdown and have been for the last 3 or so weeks and only the vaccinated will be able to come out of lockdown - the unvaccinated can only come out of lockdown upon vaccination.
In Greece the unvaccinated are banned from all public places including bars and restaurants with fine for the over 60s who are not vaccinated.
We are not in the same position as many of our European neighbours and I do not support any suggestion to follow suit on the measures they have imposed – including domestic covid passports.
It is for these reasons why I supported the government in the vote on Wednesday.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP