New coronavirus restrictions could be in place until late March under measures examined by Government scientific advisers.
The modelling by experts from Warwick University considered a package of measures including a ban on socialising with another household indoors and a return to the rule of six outdoors, in line with the Step 2 restrictions in place in April in England.
A consensus paper published on Christmas Eve by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (Spi-M-O) said “rapidly enacted Step 2 measures reduce the peak of hospital pressure to about half its level under Plan B only”.
The Warwick research looked at imposing Step 2 restrictions on either December 28 or New Year’s Day and keeping them in place until January 15, 28 or March 28.
It also included a model examining what impact “non-mandated behaviour change” would have if it reduce mixing by half the amount that Step 2 would achieve.
The Spi-M-O summary of the Warwick modelling said: “A reduction in mixing equivalent to half that of Step 2 results in only a very small reduction in severe outcomes compared to Plan B alone.
“Step 2 has a much larger effect, reducing the number of deaths up to 31st May by 39% (24-54%) if kept in place from December 28 until March 28, and 18% (12-27%) if kept in place until January 15.”
The Warwick modelling has not yet been seen by ministers, who are expected to make a decision early next week, potentially as soon as Monday, on whether extra restrictions are required.
The work was completed before the latest data suggesting the Omicron variant may produce less severe illness than the Delta strain of coronavirus.
Minutes from a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies on December 23 noted “the peak in (hospital) admissions is highly uncertain but, even with a reduction in severity, may be comparable to or higher than previous peaks in the absence of significant behaviour change or further interventions”.
The minutes said “the earlier interventions happen, and the more stringent they are, the more likely they are to be effective”.
Any move to return to the kind of lockdown restrictions in Step 2 would be likely to meet with fierce resistance from Tory backbenchers.
The Prime Minister suffered a revolt by around 100 MPs just to get England’s current Plan B measures approved.
The risk of another rebellion could encourage him to rely on guidance to reduce socialising rather than new laws, if ministers believe extra measures are required.