Boris Johnson considers new Covid-19 measures as Omicron variant spreads
Boris Johnson will hold crunch talks with his cabinet and leading advisers such Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance tomorrow, according to The Times, as he considers whether to impose more restrictions in the New Year or to leave things as they are.
The Prime Minister is set to review the latest data on Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations on Monday.
This follows Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland re-entering restrictions today, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cancelling Edinburgh’s world-famous Hogmanay event for the second year running.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has reportedly been modelling a range of scenarios varying from no further interventions to a fourth full-scale lockdown.
Covid-19 cases have risen significantly this month, with record totals of 122,186 cases and 137 deaths reported on Christmas Eve – however hospitalisations remain well below the peaks of nearly 40,000 which resulted in a third lockdown in January.
Hospitalisations have gone up 55 per cent in the past week but remain at a relatively manageable 1,246 admissions.
For further comparison, 386 Covid-19 admissions were recorded by hospitals in London on Christmas Eve, which is the highest number for a single day since February 1, but well below the second wave peak of 977 on January 6.
Any move to bring back restrictions in England would have to be approved by MPs in the House of Commons, with previous measures including mask mandates, Covid-19 passes and compulsory jabs for NHS workers, known as ‘Plan B’, only getting the green-light with the help of Labour votes, as 100 Tories rebelled.
Alongside Plan B, Johnson also advised people to avoid unnecessary contact over Christmas and reintroduced work from home guidance, which has severely affected businesses to the point that chancellor Rishi Sunak returned from his overseas trip to the US to introduce a £1bn support package.
UK ramps up protections against Omicron variant with booster campaign and massive medicine orders
According to minutes seen by The Spectator, SAGE has also been modelling severity scenarios alongside the effects of restrictions.
It has claimed nine out of ten scenarios would result in hospitals being overwhelmed this winter.
This contrasts with data from JP Morgan, also picked up by The Spectator, that Omicron-driven hospitalisations could be managed this winter in the UK – due to significant behavioural changes in recent weeks and the booster rollout.
So far, 32 million people have had a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, which have an efficacy of at least 70 per cent for around ten weeks after the inoculation.
The government is pushing to offer every adult in the UK a third dose by the end of the year, with only 10 per cent of the UK’s population over the age of 12 remaining completely un-jabbed.
Meanwhile, the data on the Omicron variant has been initially encouraging with research from UK universities corroborating the early findings from South Africa, with Imperial College London and Edinburgh University both reporting that the variant is significantly milder than previous strains.
The UK Health Security Agency also suggested the risk of hospitalisation from Omicron is 50 to 70 per cent lower than Delta’s.
The government has also ordered 4.25m anti-viral pills and has been buoyed by news the AstraZenecea vaccine works effectively as a booster alongside Pfizer and Moderna.
The data on Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations also makes minimal distinction between incidental infections – being admitted to hospital for an unrelated condition and testing positive – and Covid-19 related cases, with the MailOnline reporting that two-thirds of Covid-19 hospital patients in England for the two weeks between 7 and 21 December initially arrived to be treated for different conditions.
Chairman of the 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady has called on cabinet ministers not to support new measures.
In an opinion piece for the Daily Mail he said: “It must not happen. Enough is enough.”