Guidance to work from home, and the requirement to wear a face covering in classrooms has ended in England today.
For the first time since Plan B measures were were introduced in England back in mid December 2021 in a bid to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, staff across the country who were able to work from home have now been told they can return to office settings “from now on”, and schoolchildren and teachers will no longer need to wear face coverings in classrooms.
The immediate lifting of these measures was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to MPs in the House of Commons yesterday, and confirmed by Health Secretary Sajid Javid in a later Downing Street news conference.
While an end to the guidance to work from home was said to be expected immediately following reports, the Department for Education’s decision to, as the PM stated, “remove national guidance on their use in communal areas,” did however come as a surprise to many.
The Prime Minister also crucially announced in his statement to MPs yesterday that all Plan B restrictions in England would be lifted on 27 January, and that the legal requirement for people with COVID-19 to self-isolate would be allowed to lapse when those regulations expired on 24 March, but that date could be brought forward.
This means that from next Thursday (27 January), the wearing of face masks on public transport, in supermarket and retail settings, in communal areas of schools, and “most public indoor venues” will not be required.
You’ll also no longer need to show your NHS COVID Pass at venues and events by law.
While the government says it is still recommending they are worn in “crowded and indoor spaces where you may come into contact with people you do not normally meet”, Mr Johnson said it’s time to “trust the judgment” of the British public when it comes to face masks.
He told MPs yesterday: “In the country at large, we will continue to suggest the use of face coverings in enclosed or crowded spaces, particularly when you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet, but we will trust the judgment of the British people and no longer criminalise anyone who chooses not to wear one.”
He also said in his statement that we can expect restrictions on visits to care homes to be eased shortly too, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid said to be setting out plans “in the coming days”.
The Prime Minister said the decision to legally lift all Plan B restrictions on 27 January comes after Omicron cases were seen to be falling across the UK, and on the basis that he believes the wave had likely peaked nationally.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the highest number of new cases reported on a single day during the current wave was 218,724 on 4 January, but the body said COVID infection levels have now fallen in most parts of the UK for the first time since early December, and official figures showed that only 108,069 positive cases of COVID-19 and 359 COVID-related deaths were recorded in the latest 24-hour period as of 9am on Wednesday, which suggests that the peak may have passed.
Mr Johnson suggested he would start treating COVID more like the flu, saying: “There will soon come a time when we can remove the legal requirement to self-isolate altogether, just as we don’t place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu.
“As COVID becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance, urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others.”
He said the government would set out its long-term strategy for “living with COVID”.
While the decision to lift Plan B restrictions may have please a number of the Prime Minister’s Tory backbenchers amid the ongoing ‘partygate’ scandal and growing pressures for him to resign, a number of senior medics, however, have criticised the decision and said it’s “not guided by data”.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul – Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Council – said scrapping the measures at such a fast pace “risks creating a false sense of security” while the NHS is still under crippling pressure
Matthew Taylor – Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation representing health bodies – also cautioned that now “is not the time for complacency about this virus”.
Featured Image – Flickr | Unsplash
Army ‘on standby’ as UK prepares for more postal, rail, lecturer and nurses strikes in December
The armed forces are said to be “on standby” to help fill various roles ahead of a new raft of strikes across health, education and postal sectors this month.
Royal Mail workers, university lecturers and sixth-form college staff are committed to walking out over pay disputes on Wednesday, 30 November as various organised strikes persist across the country.
Countless employees from various industries who feel they are underappreciated and underpaid are set to join the ongoing rail strikes, as well as the thousands of nurses expected to follow suit on the picket line throughout December.
Now, as per the interim chief executive of NHS Providers Saffron Cordery, given the strikes’ proximity to Christmas, roping in the British military now seems likely. Dr Emma Runswick of the British Medical Association said there is there a simple way to put an end to mass industrial action: pay people fairly.
Speaking to Sky News on Thursday morning, Cordery confirmed that while the army is waiting in the wings to help fill relevant NHS roles, “the reality is if the army or other armed forces step in it will very much be at the margins rather than going out and driving ambulances”.
It remains unclear whether army personnel will be needed to combat the impending labour shortage across other industries. Regardless, the Communication Workers Union are going ahead will a series of strikes in December.
Having formally called on Royal Mail employees to join the national demonstrations for strike action on the following days:
Friday, 9 December
Sunday, 11 December
Wednesday, 14 December
Thursday, 15 December
Friday, 23 December
Saturday, 24 December
As for rail workers, RMT Assistant General Secretary Eddie Dempsey shared a similar sentiment, assuring that while the train drivers and the transport sector, in general, are standing firm, negotiations with Network Rail and other operators continue this week.
In addition to RMT members across 14 rail companies striking on 13-14 and 16-17 December, as well as 3-4 and 6-7 January, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) said that staff working onboard and station roles will take action against Avanti West Coast on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December.
Meanwhile, the National Education Union (NEU) which represents 77 sixth-form colleges in England are also striking over pay, stating that in real terms, teachers have suffered a pay cut of around 20% since 2010.
Furthermore, the University and College Union (UCU) already held a 48-hour strike last week and is now set to hold another 24-hour walkout among university staff. As well as organising a large rally in London, union members across at least 150 different institutions will be joining the December strikes.
Look around brand new Coronation Street set as ITV unveils Weatherfield Precinct
The Coronation Street set has had a massive expansion, with a new Weatherfield Precinct unveiled today.
The location has often been name-checked in the popular soap, but for the first time, cast members will be able to film scenes there.
The set won’t hit our screens until 13 January – but The Manc headed down for a little sneak peek.
The two-storey Weatherfield Precinct set is built around a children’s play park, with a row of shops carefully constructed by the Coronation Street set designers.
There’s everything from a charity shop to a Chinese takeaway to a dessert bar.
Above the shops sits a row of maisonettes with a balcony running in front.
There’s incredible attention to detail throughout, from the litter on the floor (which includes a packet of a fictitious crisp brand) to the fake sausage rolls in the bakery windows to the washing lines nailed to the walls.
Everything has been deliberately weathered and aged, so it looks like it’s been there for decades rather than carefully built in 2022.
The new Weatherfield Precinct set was unveiled today by members of the cast including Jack P Shepherd, Sally Dynevor, Antony Cotton, Jimmi Harkishin, Daniel Brocklebank, Channique Sterling-Brown, Elle Mulvaney, Tanisha Gorey, James Craven and Colson Smith.
It’s been added as an extension to the existing iconic set, which spans 7.7 acres near MediaCityUK.
Producer Iain MacLeod said: “Hats off to our design and construction teams who have conjured a totally convincing new precinct for our drama! They took their inspiration from Salford’s many real-world, late 20th century shopping areas and what they have created is a brilliant, characterful space to tell a diverse range of stories.
“Expect to see teens hanging out at the dessert shop, families enjoying the play area and, after dark, a rogues’ gallery, up to shady business in the ginnels. I am really excited by the arrival on screen of this much discussed but never seen corner of the Weatherfield universe.”
Head of design Rosie Mullins explained the process: “Back in 2013 Coronation Street moved into its new home at Media City. With this move came exciting potential to continue to develop and expand our Weatherfield Community onsite.
“The first expansion came in the form of Victoria Street and Weatherfield Police Station builds back in 2018.
“In February 2021 I set about the first pencil drawings for a very exciting new exterior build – Weatherfield Precinct. We have often heard about this precinct and although we have filmed over the years at a range of shopping locations, we had never established our own Weatherfield Precinct.
“It had always intrigued me – what would it look like and who would we find there? The opportunity to bring to life a colourful and grittier area of Weatherfield was so exciting!
“Weatherfield Precinct was inspired by the 1960s shopping precincts that we see across many areas of the UK. In designing this the team gathered hundreds of images with a particular focus given to those in our local Manchester and Salford area. I wanted there to be aspects of the Precinct that people from all walks of life identify with and recognise. I wanted it to reflect how communities develop but aspects of them can also feel like stepping back in time.
“In this Precinct we find an array of businesses, a playground, residential flats, a small ginnel, Weatherfield community hub and a very colourful community recycling centre.
“Working with Iain on what the writing team needs from the Precinct has meant that we have managed to pack so much into this new set! I cannot wait to see the arrival onscreen of Sweety Nuff dessert & milkshake shop, Gregory Pope Foundation Charity Shop, Rutlands bakery, Pound Outlet and Bargainanza Pawnbrokers.
“The most incredible part of this has been watching this build rise from a small car park with a mass of ugly steel, concrete and timber to the beautifully constructed, characterful 1960s 2 storey precinct that we see today.
“This build has been one of the most enjoyable builds that we have undertaken and showcases the many behind the scenes talents that the programme has to offer. I am incredibly proud of the detail, the quality of the build and for what it offers for future storytelling for the show. I am also so very proud of how it was brought to life by our in-house talented Design Team.”