Commuters return and masks in classrooms end as Plan B axed

An increase in road congestion was recorded in London and Manchester, while public transport usage in the capital was also up.

Commuters cram into the carriage of a Jubilee line train at Waterloo station in London
Commuters cram into the carriage of a Jubilee line train at Waterloo station in London

Many people resumed commuting on Thursday after guidance to work from home in England was lifted as Plan B measures to curb the spread of Omicron are axed.

An increase in road congestion was recorded in London and Manchester, while demand for public transport and footfall near offices was also up.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs in the Commons on Wednesday that work-from-home guidance would be dropped immediately and rules on face coverings in classrooms would also be scrapped in England from Thursday.

Other measures, including the requirement to wear face masks on public transport and in shops, will end next Thursday.

The legal requirement for people with coronavirus to self-isolate will also be allowed to lapse when the regulations expire on March 24, and that date could be brought forward.

Location technology firm TomTom said road congestion levels – which represent the proportion of additional time required for journeys compared with free-flow conditions – were at 72% in London and 63% in Manchester at 8am on Thursday.

That is up from 66% in London and 56% in Manchester a week earlier.

But some cities saw a reduction or no significant change in traffic.

They include Birmingham (from 57% last week to 55% on Thursday), Brighton (from 60% to 50%), Hull (unchanged at 55%), Leeds (from 48% to 44%), Leicester (from 57% to 58%) and Liverpool (from 52% to 54%).

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Network Rail figures show 303,000 people used its stations between 6am and 10.30am on Thursday, up 10% compared with the same period last week.

The statistics show daily passenger numbers were increasing even before the guidance to work from home was lifted.

Transport for London said 1.09 million entries and exits were recorded on the Tube network up to 10am on Thursday.

That is an 8% increase on the same period last week.

Demand for buses was up 3% week-on-week, with 1.19 million journeys up to 10am.

The number of commuters is likely to be affected by train firms operating emergency timetables due to staff shortages, and the 17-week closure of a stretch of the Tube’s Northern line between Moorgate and Kennington.

Footfall figures showed higher numbers of people near offices and in central London following the rule change.

Fresh data from retail research specialist Springboard revealed that footfall near offices across the UK up to 2pm on Thursday was 7.3% higher than Thursday last week.

Central London saw a footfall increase of 3.7%.

The move to lift Plan B measures could help appease Mr Johnson’s Tory critics at a time when the Prime Minister has been under pressure over Downing Street parties.

It comes after Covid infection levels fell in most parts of the UK for the first time since early December, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

But senior medics criticised the decision as “not guided by data”, while teachers’ leaders branded the end of mask mandates in schools as “premature”.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that, while prevalence remained high, case numbers were falling across the country and ministers had to consider the impact of mask-wearing on children’s education.

“There has long been a debate about face masks, particularly in schools. The Government’s job is to take a balanced and proportionate decision, in this case balanced against the best interests of children,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“It is harder to teach children and it will have an impact on their education if they are required to wear face masks at all times in classrooms.”

Figures published by NHS England show ambulance handover delays at A&E departments in England improved slightly last week, though hospital pressures “remain high”.

A total of 14,961 delays of at least 30 minutes were recorded across all hospital trusts in the seven days to January 16, representing 18% of all arrivals.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

This is down from 23% in the previous week, which was the highest level this winter.

NHS England data also shows that the number of NHS staff at hospital trusts off work due to Covid has dropped week on week across every region of England.

Some 29,517 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were ill with coronavirus or having to self-isolate on January 16, down 26% on the 40,031 the previous week.

But this is still more than double the 12,508 at the start of December.

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