New moves to cancel Christmas celebrations unlikely despite Omicron surge

Boris Johnson did not impose new restrictions on Monday, but he said the Government will ‘reserve the possibility’ of taking further action.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on Wednesday
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on Wednesday

New restrictions are unlikely to stop Christmas celebrations this week but Boris Johnson has urged caution amid speculation further measures will be needed to halt the spread of the Omicron variant.

But as the Prime Minister promised to keep the data under constant review, the Queen abandoned her Christmas at Sandringham and London mayor Sadiq Khan cancelled the capital’s New Year’s Eve celebrations.

After a special two-hour meeting of the Cabinet on Monday, the Prime Minister said the Government needs to be clearer about the rate of hospital admissions associated with Omicron, and the effectiveness of vaccines against it, before imposing additional measures in England to prevent the spread of the virus.

But Boris Johnson said the Government will “reserve the possibility” of implementing new restrictions, causing opposition politicians to accuse him of lacking a clear plan.

The Financial Times said a senior Government insider told the paper: “We are not planning to introduce new restrictions this side of Christmas”.

But although Mr Johnson stopped short of imposing new official restrictions, the Prime Minister said the Government wants people to focus on “exercising caution”.

The Queen has now decided to spend Christmas in Windsor rather than to travel to Sandringham in what one royal source said was a precautionary approach.

And London Mayor Sadiq Khan later announced the cancellation of the capital’s New Year’s Eve celebration in Trafalgar Square “in the interests of public safety”.

Meanwhile the Welsh Government has said sporting events will be played behind closed doors from Boxing Day to help control the spread of the new Omicron variant.

Labour, which has said it would support the Government over any further public health measures that were needed, accused the Prime Minister of putting party interests before the country.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said Boris Johnson was failing to set out a “clear plan”, saying the Prime Minister is instead choosing to “protect himself from his own MPs by simply not saying anything”.

And Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said that Mr Johnson had offered only “chaos” at a time when the country needed clarity.

“Families want to know urgently what Covid measures to expect, so they can plan for the days ahead. Ducking the difficult decisions is not a plan,” he said.

Esther McVey, Conservative MP for Tatton and a former minister, tweeted to say the Government “are now listening to their backbench MPs and for once pushed back on the scaremongering by the lockdown fanatics”.

Government sources reported by The Times said the focus would be on restrictions after Christmas, with a two-week “circuit breaker” banning household mixing being considered for December 28.

The Prime Minister said the arguments for taking action in response to Omicron were “very, very finely balanced” and that the Government is keeping the data under “constant review”.

He said there were still “uncertainties” around the severity of the new strain, as well as the rate of hospital admissions associated with it, and its impact on the effectiveness of the vaccines.

“There are still some things that we need to be clearer about before we decide to go further,” he said.

(PA Graphics)

Mr Johnson added: “Unfortunately I must say to people that we will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public, to protect public health, to protect our NHS.

“We are looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control and we will rule nothing out.

“But at the moment, what I think we want people to focus on is exercising caution – so ventilation, masks in the appropriate places, all the usual stuff about washing hands, but remember how contagious Omicron really is.”

Ministers were briefed on the latest situation by the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty.

(PA Graphics)

The Daily Telegraph reported that the Prime Minister was blocked by his Cabinet from imposing new Covid rules immediately, saying at least a dozen ministers spoke out against proposals for new restrictions.

Earlier on Monday, Downing Street did not deny reports that a number of ministers – including Chancellor Rishi Sunak – had pushed back against calls for action without more evidence of the impact the virus would have.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was part of the job of ministers to scrutinise any advice they were given.

The Government has said that it will if necessary recall Parliament to allow MPs to vote on any new regulations it proposes for England.

(PA Graphics)

However, some MPs have questioned whether the Prime Minister would risk another backbench revolt at a time when he is politically weakened by an ongoing row over Downing Street parties and the Tories’ crushing defeat in the North Shropshire by-election.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will give a statement on Covid-19 to MSPs in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.

The Northern Ireland Executive is due to meet on Wednesday to discuss further restrictions.

The latest Government figures showed there were a further 91,743 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK as of 9am on Monday, with a further 44 deaths of people within 28 days of testing positive for the disease.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said there had been 8,044 additional confirmed cases of the Omicron variant reported across the UK, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 45,145.

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