‘This is a fast-moving situation’: Cabinet meets today to decide on new Covid restrictions

Ministers still ‘monitoring’ ‘latest data – despite chorus of calls from scientists for a crackdown now

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 20 December 2021 13:38
Comments
Keir Starmer asks where Boris Johnson is amid calls for Christmas restrictions

Boris Johnson has yet to decide whether to introduce tougher Covid restrictions before Christmas, but has ordered an emergency cabinet meeting on Monday afternoon.

The government is still “monitoring” the latest data, No 10 says – despite a chorus of calls from leading scientists for a crackdown now, to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed.

The prime minister is thought to have been presented with three options, ranging from mere guidance to people to be more cautious to a full lockdown at some point before the New Year.

“At this point we are still monitoring the data and keeping a close eye on it,” his spokesman said, adding that fresh information was coming in “hourly” in some cases.

“More clarity” was needed, he argued, including on the impact of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant on “severe illnesses, hospitalisations and deaths”.

However, Mr Johnson is facing opposition to new curbs from within his own cabinet, at a time when he is severely weakened by rows over sleaze and lockdown-busting parties and after his humiliation in the North Shropshire by-election.

He has promised MPs will be recalled to back any further restrictions – which could again leave him dependent on Labour votes to get approval for them.

The spokesman said the government also needed to “strike the right balance between lives and livelihoods”, in setting a fresh course.

“This is a fast-moving situation,” he said, revealing Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the chief medical and scientific advisers, will brief the cabinet.

The Sage advisory group has warned of the need for urgent new measures to stem a huge surge of hospital admission, telling the government: “Delaying until 2022 would greatly reduce the effectiveness of such interventions.”

Leading scientists have spoken out, including Professor Stephen Reicher, who chairs the Spi-B group, who said: “The safest thing is not to meet up before Christmas.”

Mr Johnson’s spokesman would not be drawn on whether new regulations – or guidance, not requiring a Commons recall – is more likely.

“We will take any necessary steps in the interest of protecting lives and livelihoods,” he said, noting both approaches have been followed.

He was also forced to defend the prime ministers failure to attend a Cobra meeting, on Sunday, with the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – angering Nicola Sturgeon.

Mr Johnson had attended other meetings, the spokesman insisted – arguing it was appropriate for the Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay to take the chair, for a gathering of the devolved governments.

He also did not rule out a loosening of isolation rules, so that people who test positive for Covid have to isolate for only 7, and not 10, days, something thought to be under consideration.

“We will keep anything like that, on the isolation period, under review, based on the latest clinical advice and we would update if that were to change,” the spokesman said.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in