PM expected to scrap most Plan B measures as he fights to cling on to premiership

18 January 2022, 22:33 | Updated: 19 January 2022, 00:32

Boris Johnson is expected to drop most Plan B measures next week
Boris Johnson is expected to drop most Plan B measures next week. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Boris Johnson is expected to announce an easing of England's coronavirus restrictions as he battles to hold on to his premiership.

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The Prime Minister will make a statement to the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon, after meeting with his Cabinet to examine the latest Covid data.

England's Plan B measures include guidance to work from home, the use of the Covid pass, and a mask mandate in shops and on public transport.

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The restrictions are currently set to expire on January 26, and Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs on Tuesday that he was "cautiously optimistic that we will be able to substantially reduce restrictions next week".

Reports have suggested the Government may choose to lift the most economically significant Plan B measures - working from home and the Covid pass - while keeping the requirement to wear masks.

Whilst no final decisions have been made, the Prime Minister would face fresh conflict with Tory MPs if he attempted to extend the restrictions beyond next week's cut-off date.

With a growing number of MPs breaking rank and calling on Mr Johnson to resign, it may not be a confrontation the Prime Minister could withstand.

His position has been weakened by the ongoing row over lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street, leading to an increasing number of MPs submitting letters of no confidence or publicly calling for him to quit.

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On Tuesday Mr Johnson repeatedly refused to rule out resigning if he was found to have lied to Parliament over what he knew about a series of parties - something Dominic Cummings insists he did.

The Prime Minister's former adviser said Mr Johnson had given permission for the party on May 20 2020 to go ahead, and said: "The events of 20 May alone, never mind the string of other events, mean the PM lied to Parliament about parties.

"Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened."

But the Prime Minister insisted he did not know about the gathering in advance, saying on Tuesday: "Nobody said to me this is an event that is against the rules, that is in breach of what we're asking everybody else to do, it should not go ahead."

The Plan B measures were introduced to combat the wave of cases driven by the Omicron variant, with the aim of buying time to offer more booster jabs.

A total of 19,450 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid-19 as of January 17, Government figures show.

This is down 2 per cent week-on-week, though the total has risen slightly in the most recent two days.

A further 94,432 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the UK as of 9am on Tuesday, while a further 438 people were reported to have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the total by that measure to 152,513.

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Asked whether restrictions would be lifted during a visit to a hospital on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: "We've got to be careful about Covid.

"We've got to continue to remember that it's a threat."

A Government spokesman said: "Decisions on the next steps remain finely balanced.

"Plan B was implemented in December to slow the rapid spread of the extremely transmissible Omicron variant, and get more jabs in arms.

"It's thanks to the phenomenal efforts of the NHS and many dedicated volunteers that we have now delivered over 36 million boosters to people across the UK.

"The Omicron variant continues to pose a significant threat and the pandemic is not over.

"Infections remain high but the latest data is encouraging, with cases beginning to fall. Vaccines remain our best line of defence and we urge people to come forward, to give themselves the best possible protection."