Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Science & Tech
  2. Coronavirus
8 December 2021updated 09 Dec 2021 12:17pm

Will “Plan B” stop another lockdown?

These measures haven't done enough in Scotland and Wales and it is far from clear why they will fare better in England.

By Stephen Bush

Boris Johnson has unveiled a series of measures designed to slow the spread of the Omicron variant in England. Masks will be required in most indoor settings, while proof of either double-jabbed status or a negative lateral flow test will be mandatory for entry to night clubs and large in-person events. (That is events of 500 people or more indoors, 4000 unseated outdoors, and 10,000 or more seated outdoors.) And the government is once again recommending that everyone who can work from home does so. 

The argument for this approach is that it will slow the spread of the new variant while buying time for people to receive their third Covid-19 booster jab. But the approach has two problems. The first is medical: these measures are already in place in Scotland and Wales and they don’t appear to have slowed the spread of the Omicron variant there. The second and third are political: a large number Conservative MPs oppose all these measures, and vaccine passports in particular. While there is, in practice, a large majority in the House of Commons for these measures regardless, it isn’t clear they can be implemented without a major internal row within the Tory party. 

Ultimately these measures are all small-beer: they meet a political need to be seen to do something rather than being something that is guaranteed to work. Large numbers of people are essentially already following them and they won’t make a tangible difference to most people’s lives. They buy time, politically as much as anything else, to work out if there is a need to do the big and significant non-pharmaceutical interventions, like full lockdowns, to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed. 

But the bigger political issue is that it is also unclear whether it is possible to maintain consent for the more drastic measures, such as the closure of hospitality venues and further limits on social contacts, given the questions that still remain about whether or not lockdown regulations were followed at the heart of government. 

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
How to navigate the modern cyber-threat landscape
Supporting customers through the cost of living crisis
Data on cloud will change the way you interact with the government
Topics in this article :