The UK reported a record 122,000 coronavirus cases on Friday, prompting Boris Johnson to wait for new data on people in a hospital with the Omicron variant before deciding whether new restrictions will be needed in England after Christmas.
The prime minister and senior members of his cabinet will meet after Christmas to consider whether additional measures should be introduced before the new year – likely to affect the hospitality industry – to tackle the rapid expansion of Omicron and protect the NHS.
But government insiders said Johnson would try to avoid an urgent recall of parliament next week to approve new restrictions if possible, instead of issuing guidelines on social interference.
Government figures on Friday show that 122,186 people in the UK tested positive for Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, setting a new daily record.
Preliminary findings released by the UK Health Security Agency on Thursday, which show that people infected with Omicron are up to 70 percent less likely to need a hospital stay than those with Delta, seem to support a case against Covid’s new restrictions.
Jenny Harries, executive director of the UKHSA, said hospitalization data offered a “glimmer of Christmas hope,” but added that the work was based on “very few” people.
In London, the UK area hardest hit by Omicron, the latest available data shows that the number of Covid-related daily hospitalizations rose to 386 on Wednesday, compared to 201 a week earlier – and the highest level since early February. There were a total of 2,260 Covid-positive patients at the London hospital.
Johnson’s allies said the prime minister was waiting for “live data” during the Christmas period to determine whether the rise in Omicron cases was putting pressure on hospitals.
“We’ve always expected there to be an increase in hospital cases over the Christmas weekend,” one said. “If the data says we should make difficult decisions, we will do so. Nothing is out of the question. ”
Documents released by the government’s Christmas Emergency Scientific Advisory Group show that modelers at the University of Warwick considered the effects of new restrictions introduced on December 28 or January 1.
According to one scenario, the constraints from the so-called step 2 are modeled to last three months until March 28, with other interruption dates after a short “switch” on January 15 or 28. Government officials said the model had not been submitted to ministers.
Step 2 refers to the government’s road map for Covid for 2021 outside the blockade, and includes restrictions on interference in households and restricts pubs and restaurants to outside services only.
Modeling found that full implementation of the measures in Step 2 of December 28 would reduce hospitalizations by 16 percent if curbs were maintained until January 15. It would fall by 37 percent if they were in force by March 28.
Johnson is expected to convene his senior ministers and scientific advisers Monday or Tuesday next week to assess the latest data – leaving little time to adopt Covid’s new restrictions before the new year.
The prime minister promised lawmakers a vote on all new regulations, suggesting parliament’s recall would have to take place on Thursday or Friday for the new rules to take effect before the New Year.
Such a move could spark another split in the government, after ministers, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Minister Liz Truss, argued this month that final data should be available before any closure of the economy. It could also provoke another major revolt by conservative MPs.
One government insider said: “The parliamentary recall schedule is very short and the policy is very difficult. The alternative is to give strong guidelines to people to take care of. “
Harries, who earlier this month described Omicron as probably a “significant threat” since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, told the BBC: “[I]It’s definitely not yet at a point where we can reduce this serious threat. “
Data from the Office for National Statistics on Friday estimate that 1.7 million people in the UK had Covid in the week ending 19 December.
It is roughly one of 35 people in England, the highest rate recorded in the country since the ONS began conducting its survey in May last year.