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Boris Johnson rules out immediately implementing new Covid restrictions

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  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019

Boris Johnson has ruled out immediately implementing new coronavirus restrictions but said the Government would not hesitate to take further action, adding they were monitoring the data hour by hour.

The Prime Minister said the government was monitoring the data hour by hour but appears to have pushed any potential new restrictions to next week.

It came after ministers complained the data on Omicron was still too limited to justify the immediate introduction of new restrictions, the Telegraph reported.

The Prime Minister called a cabinet meeting this afternoon to discuss the latest data on the spread of the variant and whether a two-week circuit breaker banning indoor mixing was needed.

Mr Johnson has also pledged to recall parliament if he decides to implement further restrictions, a process that takes 48 hours.

As millions of people are travelling for Christmas in the coming days, a government source said the logistics meant it was unlikely there would be pre-Christmas restrictions.

However, ministers are said to still considering plans for a circuit breaker after Christmas.

This could include a ban people from different households from mixing indoors and introduce possible restrictions on hospitality.

December 28 has been pencilled in by officials as a possible starting point for new curbs, the Times reported.

The developments came after Dominic Raab said this morning ministers were monitoring Omicron surge data “hour by hour” to decide whether to bring in tougher restrictions before Christmas,

The Deputy Prime Minister revealed how the decision was on a knife-edge as Covid-19 cases in London sky-rocketed to more than 140,000 in a week.

Infections have exploded by up to 500 per cent among young adults in the capital and were also rising more worryingly among pensioners, an Evening Standard analysis reveals.

Omicron is already estimated to account for 87 per cent of Covid cases in London, according to initial analysis.

Asked on LBC Radio how close the country was to more restrictions before Christmas, Mr Raab said: “We are trying to move heaven and earth to avoid that, but we are dependent on the data coming through. What we know is that Omicron is spreading — doubling something like every two or three days.”

The crucial question was the level of severity of the mutation, including its impact on hospitalisations and deaths, and this still remained unclear.

“We have to rely not just on modelling, not just on assumptions... what we have to rely on is the hard data that is coming through. We monitor it hour by hour, day by day,” the Cabinet minister added.

Mr Raab said he could not make any “hard, fast guarantees” that more restrictions would not be needed ahead of Christmas Day, with scientists pressing the Government to act quickly.

But about one third of the Cabinet were said to be reluctant to support new restrictions in the coming days, according to The Times.

The paper reported that 10 ministers were 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 were expected to receive a briefing from Sir Patrick Monday afternoon and there was speculation that the Prime Minister could also hold a press conference.

He has reportedly been presented with three options to tackle the spread of the virus, ranging 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.

Ministers were hoping that by ramping up the booster programme, they could avoid having to impose more restrictions, which are likely to be fiercely resisted by many Tory MPs.

However, the Government appeared to be running out of time as the impact of jabs now on the disease’s surge will not be felt for weeks.

Without intervention beyond current Plan B rules in England, hospitalisations could reach 3,000 a day, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has warned.

Modelling also suggested that the number of people dying with Covid could rise to between 600 and 6,000 a day, though it emphasised that there was great uncertainty about these estimates and that they did not take into account people changing their behaviour more than in previous waves, which may happen given that they are learning to live with the virus.

However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak of a “complete abdication of responsibility” for not attending a meeting of the Cobra Whitehall emergency committee on Sunday.

The Standard analysis showed:

  • There were 140,942 confirmed Covid cases announced for London in the week to December 19, more than three times as many as the 42,455 in the first week of this month. The real number of infections is estimated to be significantly higher.

  • A total of 21,594 new infections were announced Sunday, down on the previous three days, which may raise hopes that Londoners being more cautious were stopping the rise, although figures at weekends are sometimes lower.

  • The seven-day infection rate for Londoners aged 25 to 29 has soared by 501 per cent in the week to December 14 to 2,302 confirmed cases per 100,000 in this age group, compared with 383 in the week to December 1.

  • The seven-day rate jumped 455 per cent for Londoners aged 20-24 in this period to 1,846.

  • Of more concern, the rate was also now rising among older people in the capital who are more likely to get seriously ill from Covid, though vaccines are believed to significantly reduce the likelihood of this from all variants.

  • The seven-day rate among Londoners aged 74-79 has risen 174 per cent, compared with December 1, from a low base of 59.6 confirmed cases per 100,000 in this age group to 163.4.

  • For those aged 70 to 74 it has gone up 129 per cent to 184.7, and for the 65 to 69-year-olds by 106 per cent to 255.

Louise Bishop, consultant in health protection at the UK Health Security Agency London, said: “We are currently seeing extremely high numbers of Covid on a daily basis in London and some of the highest case rates since last January.

“We are constantly monitoring the data to assess the impact that this Omicron wave is having on particular demographics and although we continue to see high and climbing rates in the working-age population, we are now seeing a concerning increase in the over-sixties.”

The analysis also showed that almost half of all London boroughs have seen Covid cases more than double in a week. Inner London, where significant numbers remain unvaccinated, is seeing the quickest increases.

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