Working from home from Monday as government moves to Plan B following emergence of omicron coronavirus variant
The government has moved to Plan B and the nation is urged to work from home from Monday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the move was in an attempt to curb the rising number of cases of the new omicron coronavirus variant.
Mandatory restrictions on facemasks were introduced in shops on November 30 following the emergence of the new variant and Mr Johnson thought he wouldn't have to review the measures until December 18.
However, he said the state of the nation was starting to mirror that of South Africa where omicron hospitalisations are doubling in a week.
"As soon as we knew of the omicron variant this government acted," said Mr Johnson.
"Omicron is growing much faster than previous dominant delta variant and spreading rapidly around the world.
"Its doubling time in England could be between 2.5 and three days compared to seven days for the delta variant.
"While the picture may get better, it may lead to a rise in hospitalisations and then deaths."
Holding the Downing Street news briefing alongside chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Mr Johnson set out his Plan B.
He said employers should use the rest of the week to discuss working from home, but that everyone who is able should do so from Monday.
"I know this will be hard but by reducing your contacts in the workplace, you will help slow transmission," said the Prime Minister.
From Friday, facemasks will further be compulsory in entertainment venues including theatres and cinemas, Mr Johnson added.
Covid passes will also be mandatory for those entering nightclubs and venues where large crowds gather, including inside venues with up to 500 people and outside venues with more than 4,000.
Mr Johnson said the Covid pass can still be obtained with two doses but that the government would keep this under review.
"We will take every step to make sure the NHS is ready for these challenges," he said. "The single biggest thing we can do is get our jabs, and the booster we've opened up to all over 40s and the reduced gap between the second vaccine and booster to three months.
"Let's do everything to protect ourselves and loved ones and reduce pressures on NHS.
"We must be humble in the face of this virus."
Mr Johnson concluded the government would be guided by hard medical data and would constantly monitor the situation.
It comes amid growing frustrations over reports there was a Downing Street Christmas party last year, when Tier 3 restrictions were in place, following the emergence of a video of a practice government news briefing.
The video shows senior government advisers joking and laughing about a No 10 Christmas party, said to have taken place on December 18.
One of the then-aides Allegra Stratton resigned this afternoon — less than 20 hours after the video emerged.
Holding back tears, Ms Stratton offered her profound apologies for joking about the alleged party during a rehearsal for a news conference in which other aides asked her about the gathering.
At Prime Minister's Questions today (Wednesday), Mr Johnson repeatedly assured the public no party took place, said he was furious and asked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate.