No new Covid restrictions before Christmas, Boris Johnson confirms | Boris Johnson

Christmas will take place without any restrictions on socialization, Boris Johnson confirmed, prompting warnings, which could lead to tougher measures later, despite tentative signs that cases have started to level off.

The Prime Minister said he understood families across England needed certainty to move Christmas plans forward, but warned that restrictions could still be imposed after December 25 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

The Christmas decision, which follows deep divisions within the cabinet, contrasted with actions taken by the Scottish and Welsh governments on Tuesday. Scotland has canceled street parties in Hogmanay for tens of thousands, Wales has announced fines of £ 60 for employees who refuse to work from home, and both countries have said sporting events would be held in camera. Nicola Sturgeon previously requested that indoor mixing be limited to three households on each side of Christmas Day.

Labor said while the news of Christmas in England would be a relief to many, Johnson now appeared to be “too weak” to impose further restrictions on his cabinet if they were needed.

The number of reported Covid cases across the UK fell for the third time in five days on Tuesday, raising hopes that the recent increase may start to level off – albeit at record levels. There were 90,629 confirmed cases on Tuesday compared to a high of 93,045 on Friday.

Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the recent rapid increase had slowed down and the numbers may now have “placed”. “I had enough last Thursday, but I’m more optimistic tonight,” he said. “Even with all the caveats and sources of bias that might sway … it gives me hope.”

Hunter said factors such as fewer people wanting to be tested in case it ruled out family Christmas reunions could be at play – but none could sufficiently explain the trend over the past five days. “Looking at the growth rate of two weeks ago, if this had continued we would have expected to report something in excess of 200,000 today. [confirmed cases], rather than the 90,000, ”he said.

While he didn’t believe the infections were going down, they might level off, he said. “At the moment, the data seems to have reached a plateau. But there are caveats to this, it means we always have to be a little bit cautious. Hospitalizations are increasing slightly but “the jury is still out” if the NHS could be overwhelmed next month, he added.

In a brief video clip, Johnson said the situation with Omicron – which is highly transmissible and less susceptible to vaccines – “remains extremely difficult but I also agree that people are waiting to see if their Christmas plans are going to be affected.”

“So what I can say tonight is that we naturally cannot rule out further measures after Christmas – and we will keep a constant eye on the data, and we will do whatever is necessary to protect the data. public health.

“But given the lingering uncertainty over several things – the severity of Omicron, the uncertainty over the hospitalization rate or the impact of vaccine rollout or boosters, we don’t think today it there is enough evidence to justify stricter measures before Christmas. “

He hasn’t ruled out post-Christmas restrictions being announced this week, but unless the data moves quickly, that now seems unlikely. It is understood that any post-Christmas measure would involve regulations, requiring a vote in parliament, rather than a simple change of council.

While Johnson reiterated warnings that people should be careful with Christmas plans, especially with vulnerable parents, some scientists have said the absence of new rules carries a significant risk.

“This is a very risky approach and it is very likely that more stringent restrictions will be needed in the near future,” said Professor Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick.

“Waiting for the number of cases and hospitalizations to increase is probably too late to suppress the spread of the omicron variant and will put the NHS under unprecedented pressure. A short-circuit outage would now have prevented more people from becoming infected and having to self-isolate, which now has an impact on many essential services. “

Johnson’s announcement came after a long and divided meeting of his leadership team on Monday in which Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi reportedly put warning against further measures. All have been linked with potential candidacies to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, particularly following a rebellion of 100 Tory MPs against Covid restrictions and a historic defeat in the by-elections last week.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said: “Boris Johnson is too weak to get measures to keep the country safe through his cabinet. The prime minister is focused on keeping his post, half of his cabinet preparing for leadership campaigns, and the country has no plans to deal with the looming threat from Omicron. The government needs to stop arguing among itself, come up with a plan and clear up people and businesses. “

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Edward L. Robinett