New UK mask rules begin as Johnson comes under fire from holiday critics
Stricter restrictions to tackle the coronavirus came into effect in Britain on Friday, as the government faced new allegations that officials flouted rules they had imposed on the nation with break-up parties from foreclosure to last Christmas.
Face masks are once again mandatory in indoor public spaces in England under measures announced this week by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to slow the spread of the new variant of the omicron virus. Vaccination passes will be required for nightclubs and major events starting next week, and residents will be asked to work from home, if possible.
The emergence of omicron, which is spreading rapidly in Britain, has shaken the government’s hopes that vaccinations would be sufficient to control the virus. British scientists and officials say omicron spreads faster than the currently dominant delta variant and is likely more resistant to current vaccines. It is not yet clear whether this causes more severe or milder cases of COVID-19.
Along with the new restrictions, the UK government is offering everyone 18 and over a third booster dose of the vaccine in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
The return of restrictions is unwelcome for many, and revelations of an apparent rule violation by government officials during last winter’s tough closures have intensified opposition to the new measures.
The government has asked Britain’s top official to investigate several rallies, including an event on December 18, 2020 at the Prime Minister’s offices at 10 Downing Street, where staff are said to have enjoyed wine, food, games and an exchange of festive gifts at a time when pandemic regulations prohibited most social gatherings.
Several media outlets reported on Friday that one of Johnson’s top advisers, communications director Jack Doyle, attended the Dec. 18 party and presented staff members with awards. At the time, he was deputy director of communications.
In his current role, Doyle has led the government’s public statements on the party’s allegations. For several days, Johnson’s office denied that a party had taken place and insisted the rules were followed at all times.
That claim fell apart when a leaked video showed senior staff members joking about the alleged party. The video’s top official, Allegra Stratton, apologized and resigned on Wednesday.
“It has been a difficult week for the government,” UK Small Business Secretary Paul Scully said on Friday, adding that the investigation must “get to the bottom” of the allegations.
“We want to see beyond a doubt that no rule has been broken, this is what assurances were given to the Prime Minister, and this is what I heard,” Scully told the BBC . ” I was not there. I do not know.”
The Christmas party allegations are the latest in a series of allegations of rules and ethics violations by Johnson and government officials. Britain’s electoral watchdog on Thursday fined the Prime Minister’s Conservative Party £ 17,800 ($ 23,500) for failing to keep proper records of donor money that was used to renovate the Johnson’s official residence.
Wes Streeting, spokesperson for the opposition Labor Party for health, said the flow of allegations had undermined confidence in the government during a public health crisis.
Streeting blamed Johnson, saying “it is his untrustworthy nature, his disorganization, his dishonesty, that undermines confidence in public health measures.”
“Boris Johnson’s character and demeanor is starting to undermine a whole host of things: the standards system in Parliament, the way the law is enforced in the country and most importantly whether the government can get its health message across.” public at a critical time, “Streeting said.