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Boris Johnson has denied imposing a “lockdown by stealth” amid allegations that medical advisers are “running the show” on Covid policy.
The Prime Minister urged people to be “cautious” about their activities during the festive period, but said the Government does not “want to make your choices for you about your social life”.
He made the comments during a visit to the Saga vaccination centre in Ramsgate, Kent, as England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty faced questions from the Commons Health and Social Care Committee.
It came as the booster programme continued to pick up pace, with data from the UK’s four health agencies showing a record 745,183 booster and third doses of Covid-19 vaccine were reported across the country on Wednesday, surpassing Tuesday’s tally.
Meanwhile, it emerged that the Queen has cancelled her traditional pre-Christmas family party next week.
It is understood the decision was a precaution, with a Buckingham Palace source suggesting it could put too many people’s Christmas arrangements at risk if it went ahead.
And it is understood the Welsh Government is likely to increase restrictions for a period after Christmas Day with expected measures including limiting the number of people allowed to meet in hospitality and entertainment venues.
But the exact details will be confirmed on Thursday night after sign-off from the country’s cabinet members.
Prof Whitty told the public at a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday to prioritise events that “really matter to them” over the festive period, in an effort to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
But Mr Johnson stopped short of matching the warning, instead urging people to “think carefully” before attending celebrations.
Speaking in the Commons on Thursday, Conservative MP for Winchester Steve Brine said: “At a stroke the chief medical officer changed Government policy and put this country, certainly hospitality… into effective lockdown.
“Can I ask – yes or no – is what Professor Whitty said last night now the policy of this Government? That we should socialise carefully? What, in practical legal terms, does that mean?
“And on support, because advisers are now running the show – I bet none of them run a business facing complete ruin as a result of what was said last night – the Treasury is going to have to do more, because otherwise we risk ruining and wasting the amazing support that Her Majesty’s Treasury gave last year.”
Greg Parmley, chief executive of industry body Live, said: “The current lockdown by stealth is quickly pushing the live music sector to the edge.”
Prof Whitty told the Health and Social Care Committee on Thursday that he did not wish to dictate to people what they can and cannot do.
But he added: “This is about saying to people, look, this is a period to prioritise. And also to be clear, (this) was a message the Prime Minister also said last night.”
The committee heard from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief medical adviser, Dr Susan Hopkins, who said there were 15 people in hospital with the Omicron variant, but Prof Whitty said the “real number” will be “much bigger than that”.
“That is simply the number who are proven, just to be clear,” he told the committee.
He said it is difficult to know what will happen with the NHS over the next four week, but he expects the height of the Omicron wave will fall faster than previous Covid-19 peaks.
He also said he thinks “each six months will be better than the last six months” when it comes to fighting coronavirus.
Prof Whitty said it is likely that vaccines and antiviral drugs will do “almost all of the heavy lifting” in tackling future variants.
During his visit to Kent, Mr Johnson denied he was imposing a lockdown by stealth.
Speaking to broadcasters, the Prime Minister said the situation was “very different” from last year.
“What we have is the additional protection of the vaccines, and the ability to test,” he said.
“So if you want to do something, if you want to go to an event or a party, then the sensible thing to do, if that’s a priority, the sensible thing to do is to get a test and to make sure that you’re being cautious.
“But we’re not saying that we want to cancel stuff, we’re not locking stuff down, and the fastest route back to normality is to get boosted.”
A Treasury minister insisted he will take his team out for lunch on Monday.
Conservative frontbencher John Glen told MPs: “I think the advice is clear. One should get boosted as quickly as possible, as I did on Saturday.
“Take the lateral flow tests and act responsibly, and I should be taking my team out in Salisbury on Monday for lunch.”
The news came as business leaders expressed concerns over calls for people to consider limiting their social contacts around Christmas.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting urged the Government to “hammer out a deal to help hospitality”, while health minister Gillian Keegan insisted there are still measures in place to help businesses through the pandemic.