Health Minister Defends Not Introducing Plan B Despite Omicron Concerns

"We're very much on the front foot with this," Edward Argar claimed.
Edward Argar, health minister, speaking to ITV's Good Morning Britain
Edward Argar, health minister, speaking to ITV's Good Morning Britain
ITV Good Morning Britain

Edward Argar explained why the government is still not implementing the stricter measures of plan B during an interview with BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Monday.

Downing Street will be introducing “temporary and precautionary” measures from Tuesday onwards in an attempt to get ahead of the new variant of concern, omicron.

This includes mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport, and forced self-isolation for travellers arriving back into the UK until they receive a negative PCR test result taken on the second day of their return.

However, some have asked whether the government has gone far enough with these new measures and if the so-called plan B should be brought forward.

Plan B first made headlines back in September – it includes working from home, mandatory face masks and vaccine passports for certain venues.

The health minister Edward Argar told the Today programme: “It’s always a balance here, with a lot of people saying, ‘go a lot further, go to plan B’ or do go as far, you’re going too far with these. We believe we’ve struck the right balance.”

The government has resisted repeated calls to bring in more restrictions, choosing to focus on the booster jab programme and regular Covid testing instead, up until the new measures were announced.

“We don’t know whether this variant will behave differently,” health minister Argar explained.

“We think this is a measured and proportionate way of slowing down the disease or this new variant of the disease, while we try to better understand it.”

But Today programme host Martha Kearney asked Argar why the government was still not introducing a blanket rule for masks in all indoor, public settings, adding: “What’s the downside of having masks in pubs, restaurants or classrooms?”

He claimed that it was “pragmatic and sensible” for masks not to be worn in pubs and restaurants because that’s where you eat and drink.

He also noted that schools were different because people tend not to mix as much in classrooms as they do in corridors and communal areas.

Argar described the measures of plan B as “hugely disruptive” due to the cost to the economy, and said the government were right to resist calls for plan B earlier this year.

Kearney pointed out that with the new variant, we’re in “new circumstances” compared to September and October when the Delta variant was the primary concern.

Argar replied: “I don’t think we are in a position yet to understand the impact on hospitalisations and vaccinations and therefore rather than automatically going to what some will call for, which is very very heavy restrictions, or what others will call for, which is nothing at all and wait and see, we’ve struck a reasonable and proportionate balance in the middle.”

Kearney continued: “You’ve been criticised in the past for not acting quickly enough in similar circumstances in the arrival of a new variant.

“Don’t you need to at least keep on the table the idea of working from home now?”

Argar rejected her suggestion and said: “We’re very much on the front foot with this.

“We’ve got to keep a sense of proportion and cool, calm heads as we do the scientific work to understand what may or may not be needed in the future.”

The current rules will be reviewed in three weeks, shortly before Christmas, but Argar told Sky News on Monday that he does not expect more restrictions to be introduced in the upcoming weeks.

Argar also told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I’ve learnt never to try and predict this virus and what it will try to do.”

He said he was still planning on spending Christmas with his friends and family.


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