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- British politician (born 1974)
Dominic Raab has said he cannot make any “hard, fast guarantees” that more restrictions will not be needed ahead of Christmas Day.
The Deputy Prime Minister said the data is “always under review” but claimed the country is in a “better position to enjoy Christmas with loved ones” this year.
But he was unable to offer any guarantees as he advised people to be “careful and cautious” in the coming days.
Downing Street confirmed a Cabinet meeting is expected on Monday afternoon for ministers to receive updates and ask questions of officials over the latest Covid situation.
Amid reports ministers have pushed back against calls from scientific advisers for new measures to tackle the Omicron variant before Christmas, Mr Raab offered his support for the Government’s approach while noting all Cabinet ministers ask questions about the advice received.
Confirmed cases of the faster-spreading strain have risen by more than 12,000 in the UK – and London’s cases alone topped 10,000, according to the latest data on Sunday.
But about one third of the Cabinet are said to be reluctant to support new restrictions in the coming days, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak among them, according to The Times.
The paper reported that 10 ministers are resisting a call by the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance at the weekend for new restrictions to be brought in as soon as possible to prevent the health service being overwhelmed.
Conservative MPs are expected to receive a briefing from Sir Patrick on Monday afternoon.
Mr Johnson has been presented with three options to tackle the spread of the virus, according to the Daily Telegraph.
The paper reported that they range from guidance asking people to limit indoor contacts, to rules on household mixing, social distancing and a curfew on pubs and restaurants and, thirdly, a full lockdown.
The Telegraph quoted one unnamed Cabinet minister as saying data presented by Sir Patrick and England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty on Saturday was “just trashed by the Cabinet”.
The source said “guidelines, rather than restrictions, are entirely possible”.
On whether a lockdown is being considered over Christmas, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “At this point, we’re still monitoring the data and keeping a very close eye on it, as the Deputy Prime Minister said this morning. We’d update if any further decisions are taken.”
Conservative peer Lord Frost offered an insight into the mood of some within the Cabinet after stating he quit as Brexit minister over the weekend because “I don’t support coercive policies on Covid”.
“The Prime Minister has got some very difficult decisions to take and I’m sure he’ll be thinking very hard at them,” he told Sky News.
Mr Raab, addressing concerns over festive plans, told Sky News: “We will have a much better Christmas than last year because of the vaccination level, both the overall vaccination level but particularly the impact of the booster campaign, and we saw on Saturday, just in one day, 900,000 people get their booster.
“I do think of course, you have heard it from the Health Secretary over the weekend, I’d echo that, people will need to be careful and cautious.
“I do think that again, subject to the data, and it’s always under review, we’re in a better position to enjoy Christmas with loved ones this year.”
When asked if he could guarantee there will not be more restrictions between now and Christmas Day, Mr Raab said: “Well, I just can’t make hard, fast guarantees.”
Mr Raab added the Government is “very mindful” of the sectors of the economy that are “suffering” at the moment, including hospitality.
But he outlined existing support schemes as questions remain over what further help Chancellor Rishi Sunak will provide.
Mr Raab also told Times Radio having a drink “after a long day or long week” was not against the regulations when asked about a photo showing the Prime Minister, his wife and staff in the garden of No 10 during the first national lockdown.
The photo, obtained by the Guardian, showed Mr Johnson, his then-fiancee Carrie, and 17 other staff members in the garden on May 15 2020, with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard on a table in front of the Prime Minister.
For Labour, the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, told Good Morning Britain that the Government has got to “come out of hiding” and “put in place that pathway to getting on top of the virus and the infection”.
Advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), published at the weekend, warned there are likely already hundreds of thousands of new Omicron infections every day in England and that hospital admissions with the variant in the UK are “probably around one tenth of the true number” due to a lag in reporting.
While a record 830,403 boosters were given in England on Saturday, a rate of around one million a day is needed if every adult is to be offered a booster jab by the end of the year.
Deaths in England of people with the variant have risen to 12, while hospital admissions of patients with confirmed or suspected Omicron increased to 104, according to the latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency.
A further 12,133 confirmed cases of the variant have been reported across the UK, the data on Sunday showed, bringing the total confirmed cases of Omicron across the four nations to 37,101.
In total, a further 82,886 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were recorded in the UK as of 9am Sunday, the Government said.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of Government advisory body, the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B), told BBC Breakfast: “The safest thing is not to meet up before Christmas.
“If you want a good Christmas dinner, I would say be very careful about meeting up before Christmas.”