BORIS Johnson has urged people to work from home from Monday as he triggered Covid Plan B in England to tackle soaring Omicron rates.
Imposing the harshest restrictions the country has seen in six months, the PM is also bringing in vaccine passports to nightclubs, football matches and mass events.
But he faced a tsunami of criticism from furious Tory MPs who lashed the “tyrannical” and “baffling” restrictions.
And in astonishing scenes, top Tory William Wragg openly accused the PM of imposing the rules as a “diversionary tactic” to distract from the huge row over a lockdown-breaking party No10 aides had in Downing Street last December.
The tough measures also include mask-wearing being massively extended to all indoor venues but not pubs, restaurants or gyms.
But bizarrely, people can go ahead with their booze-fuelled Christmas parties and still go to the pub with their mates, the PM said.
The tighter Covid restrictions under the Government’s Plan B could cost the economy a whopping £4billion per month, experts have warned.
Shops, restaurants, pubs and clubs are among the businesses expected to be hit hard by the new Covid measures which come as the key Christmas trading period is in full swing.
They would be a “blow” to many firms struggling to recover from the pandemic, several industry bodies warned.
The Institute of Economic Affairs, a leading think tank, said: “Even without a full national lockdown, the additional Covid restrictions apparently being considered in Whitehall could easily knock two per cent off GDP – costing the UK economy £4 billion a month – and force the taxpayer to stump up billions more to prevent a new wave of bankruptcies and job losses.”
News of the Covid restrictions saw the pound drop to its lowest level in more than a year against the dollar. Sterling traded 0.5 per cent lower at $1.317.
Boris insisted the slew of unpopular new rules are desperately needed to save Christmas — and hinted it will be the last time he will ever impose restrictions on the frustrated nation.
Addressing the nation at a press conference last night, Boris said triggering Plan B was the “proportionate and responsible” thing to do.
He added: “We slow the spread of the virus, buy ourselves the time to get yet more boosters into arms, especially in the older and more vulnerable people.”
Britain must be “humble in the face of the virus” and act fast now the super-spreading Omicron has arrived, he said.
But he held out hope the restrictions could be torn up in January if the mutant strain doesn’t lead to a massive waves of hospitalisations and deaths.
Scrambling to try to reassure a fed-up nation, he said that “as soon as it becomes clear that the boosters are capable of holding this Omicron variant, and we have boosted enough people to do that job of keeping Omicron in equilibrium, then we will be able to move forward as before”.
And hinting that this will be the last time he imposes new rules, he said England cannot “keep going indefinitely with restrictions on people’s lives”.
While he moved to kill off another pingdemic by revealing Brits who come into contact with anyone with Omicron will be able to take daily tests instead of self isolating for 10 days.
In a highly tense Commons showdown over the new rules, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there could be a million Omicron cases in Britain by the end of the month.
But in fiery scenes, he faced a barrage of heckles from his own side’s MPs as he announced details of Plan B – with one Tory yelling he should “resign”.
Furious Tories branded the barmy measures “illogical” and “baffling” and vowed to defy No10 and vote against them where they can.
Tory MP Greg Smith MP raged: “And we are being encouraged to go to Christmas parties while being told to avoid the office at all costs.
“These rules are absurdly baffling to even the most authoritarian lockdown supporter.”
Tory Anthony Mangnall said: “If I can sing in a club, drink in a pub and not have to work with colleagues why is the government pursuing this illogical process?”
Senior Tory MP Steve Baker told HOAR: “This minute regulation of our lives can only be regarded as tyranny.
“Working from home will hammer the economy. Restrictions like these will leave sections of our economy uninvestable and lead to businesses disappearing – like airlines, pubs – all the stuff that makes life worth living.”
Senior Tory MP Julian Knight said: “Frankly I’m appalled. I have stuck with the government through thick and thin but this is a step too far. I will vote against.”
Ministers have to bring fresh legislation to Parliament to bring in compulsory vaccine passports, although the other measures can be imposed without a vote.
The PM is braced for his biggest rebellion yet over the vaccine passport plan – with around 60 MPs expected to defy No10 and vote against it.
But Labour are expected to back Plan B – meaning it will still be passed by Parliament.
Mr Johnson said he was forced to act after dire warnings the super-contagious Omicron bug could be dominant before Christmas.
A UK Health Security Agency analysis suggests without further interventions, the variant would take over as the main driver of Covid within “two to four weeks”.
Data from the pandemic-busting unit reveals Omicron infections are currently doubling every two to three days.
Gloomy Professor Chris Whitty warned that Covid hospitalisation rates have rocketed by 300 per cent over the past week in South Africa – where Omicron is rife.
He warned: “That is an extraordinarily fast rate and you, therefore, can get from very small numbers to very large numbers really quite quickly.”
But he said he could understand why “people feel deflated” but insisted “this is not a situation where we are back to square one”.