March 30. 2023. 4:20

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Johnson announces new Covid restrictions as he apologises for Downing Street video

British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty

Boris Johnson has reintroduced some coronavirus restrictions to England in response to the spread of the Omicron variant, recommending that people work from home and requiring vaccine passports for entry to nightclubs and other large venues.

The prime minister made the announcement hours after he launched an inquiry into whether a staff Christmas party took place at 10 Downing Street a year ago.

For almost two weeks, Mr Johnson and his aides have denied that there was a party in Downing Street on December 18th, 2020, but a video leaked to ITV news on Tuesday night appeared to contradict those denials. The video recorded days after the party was reported to have happened showed a mock press conference with the prime minister’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton answering questions about such a party and laughing with other aides as she struggled to find a plausible line.

At prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Mr Johnson apologised for the video, declaring that he was “sickened and furious” when he saw it.

“I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that the people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules, because I was also furious to see that clip. I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country, and I apologise for the impression that it gives. I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no covid rules were broken,” he said.

Cabinet secretary Simon Case has been charged with investigating whether rules were broken on December 18th last year but Mr Johnson said he could look into other reported Downing Street parties including some allegedly attended by the prime minister.

New measures

Ms Stratton resigned on Wednesday as the prime minister’s spokeswoman on Cop26 and she was in tears as she read a statement to reporters outside her home apologising for her remarks in the video.

Boris Johnson’s former spokesman Allegra Stratton speaking outside her home in north London where she announced that she has resigned as an adviser to the prime minister. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

“My remarks seemed to make light of the rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention. I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days and I offer my profound apologies to all of you at home for them,” she said.

The measures announced on Wednesday mean that face coverings will be mandatory from Friday in most public indoor venues, including theatres and cinemas. Vaccine passports will be mandatory from next Wednesday for entry into nightclubs, and venues where large crowds gather, although a negative lateral flow test will also be enough to gain entry.

Mr Johnson said he was introducing the new restrictions because it had become clear that the Omicron variant was growing much faster than the Delta variant and that it was doubling every two or three days.

“We are seeing growth in cases here in the UK that mirrors the rapid increases previously seen in South Africa. And South Africa is also seeing hospitalisations roughly doubling in a week, meaning that we can’t yet assume Omicron is less severe than previous variants. So while the picture may get better – and I sincerely hope that it will – we know the remorseless logic of exponential growth could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations, and therefore sadly in deaths,” he said.

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