PM gives green light to Christmas but warns situation ‘finely balanced’

Boris Johnson said people should ‘exercise caution’.

People walk past Christmas lights outside a closed shop on Oxford Street, London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
People walk past Christmas lights outside a closed shop on Oxford Street, London (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Boris Johnson has given the go-ahead for people’s Christmas plans, although he warned tougher restrictions could be implemented post-December 25.

The Prime Minister said “continuing uncertainty” about the severity of the Omicron variant and hospital admission rates means he does not believe there is enough evidence at the moment to justify stricter measures.

But the situation remains “finely balanced” and people should “exercise caution”, Mr Johnson added.

The Prime Minister’s video message comes as figures from NHS England show that 1,904 people were in hospital in London with Covid-19 as of December 21, the highest number since March 2 and is up 41% from a week earlier.

Across England, 6,902 patients were in hospital with Covid-19 on December 21 – the highest number since November 10 and up 7% week-on-week.

The Prime Minister said: “There is no doubt that Omicron continues to surge with a speed unlike anything we’ve seen before.

“The situation remains extremely difficult but I also recognise that people have been waiting to hear whether their Christmas plans are going to be affected.

(PA Graphics)

“So what I can say tonight is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health.

“But in view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalisation rate or the impact of the vaccine rollout or the boosters, we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas.

“We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed.

“What this means is that people can go ahead with their Christmas plans but the situation remains finely balanced and I would urge everyone to exercise caution, to keep protecting yourselves and your loved ones, especially the vulnerable.

“And remember to keep following the guidance – wear a mask indoors when required to do so, keep fresh air circulating, and take a test before you visit elderly or vulnerable relatives.”

He went on to encourage people to “drop everything” if they have yet to get a vaccine.

(PA Graphics)

Responding to Mr Johnson’s announcement on Christmas, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said “we are all breathing a sigh of relief that Christmas is going ahead as planned”, but stressed “the country also deserves some certainty about what comes after Christmas so that families and businesses can plan ahead”.

He added: “The virus won’t be taking Christmas off and there’s still a risk of the NHS being overwhelmed in the new year. Boris Johnson is too weak to get any measures to keep the country safe through his Cabinet

“The Prime Minister is focused on clinging on to his job, half his Cabinet are preparing their leadership campaigns, and the country is left with no plan to deal with the imminent threat of Omicron.

“The Government must stop arguing amongst itself, come forward with a plan, and give people and businesses clarity.”

Conservative MP Peter Bone said he “certainly agrees” with the Prime Minister “that no new restrictions should be made before Christmas”.

The MP for Wellingborough added: “If they think they need extra restrictions, the Government needs to come to Parliament, it needs to put its proposals. Evidence must be scrutinised by MPs and we need to debate and vote.

“But at the moment, I don’t see any need.”

After a briefing on the Omicron variant with the Government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance, chief medical officer Chris Whitty and health minister Ed Argar on Tuesday evening, Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley, the Father of the House, said “most MPs of all parties now are aware of what is the factual basis for understanding the situation”.

Sir Peter told the PA news agency: “There are some things unknown now which will become better known over the next week or two. And there are a number of myths which people need to be aware of.

“The next point is this: the statistics are a combination of the growing numbers of the new variant and the declining tail of the old variant. And you cannot just combine the two to give yourself a proper picture of what is going on and what might go on.”

On whether more coronavirus restrictions will be needed after Christmas, the MP for Worthing West said: “I think there’s a lower chance of major restrictions because we are making individual decisions which are consistent with our own wellbeing, and the wellbeing of those we care about.”

In an interview with Times Radio, due to air in full on Friday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he is not calling for a circuit-breaker because hospital admissions are “different” to where they were in autumn 2020.

He said: “Because if we look at the new variants, the numbers are a cause for concern. The hospitalisations are different than they were last autumn when we called for the circuit break.

“Sorry, the autumn before when we called for the circuit break. We’ve asked ourselves a quite difficult question, which is: ‘What does a responsible opposition acting in the public interest do at a moment like this?’

The Government needs to get a grip, needs to come up with a plan, we will look at it just as we did last week with Plan B, if we think it's the right measures then we will then support it

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer

“And the answer is we act in the public interest, and we act to protect public health and therefore the Government needs to get a grip, needs to come up with a plan, we will look at it just as we did last week with Plan B, if we think it’s the right measures then we will then support it.”

Mr Johnson’s announcement comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak offered a £1 billion support package to hospitality and leisure businesses hit by Covid restrictions amid concerns over the high transmission of Omicron.

The package includes one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the affected sectors in England, which the Treasury expects will be administered by local authorities and to be available in the coming weeks.

The Government also intends to use taxpayers’ cash to cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for firms with fewer than 250 employees.

Cultural organisations in England can also access a further £30 million funding during the winter via the Culture Recovery Fund, the Treasury said.

Mr Sunak’s announcement follows crisis talks with business leaders after he cut short a Government business trip to California.

Businesses have seen takings plummet due to Christmas festivities being scaled back amid fear over the spread of the new Covid variant.

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