New Covid restrictions 'could come in on Boxing Day'

A new Covid crackdown could be implemented straight after Christmas, reports say.

With the Omicron variant spreading rapidly across the country, new restrictions could come in as soon as Boxing Day, according to The Sun.

Experts are warning that there are likely already hundreds of thousands of daily infections within days.

The contingency plan for Boxing Day is reportedly yet to be presented to Government ministers.

It comes after scientific advisers to the Government said hospital admissions with the variant in the UK are ‘probably around one tenth of the true number’ due to a lag in reporting.

The ‘situation update’ from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on Thursday was published on Saturday and said that it is ‘almost certain that there are now hundreds of thousands of new Omicron infections per day’ in England.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has declared a major incident due to the ‘hugely concerning’ surge across the capital, stressing that staff absences in vital public services including the NHS, the fire service and police were also a major cause for concern.

Asked about a possible tightening of restrictions after Christmas, a Government spokesman said they will ‘continue to look closely at all data and keep our measures under review’.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid again labelled the current measures ‘responsible and proportionate’, even as he admitted being torn over their introduction.

But experts fear that line is unlikely to hold and that the UK could be repeating mistake made earlier in the pandemic of delaying action, meaning harsher and longer restrictions are needed later.

Mr Javid wrote in the Daily Telegraph: ‘Standing in Parliament this week and arguing for Plan B brought me no joy – promoting individual freedom and opportunity is one of the reasons I got into politics.

‘But we have to be clear-eyed about the challenge Omicron presents. Our strategy since it emerged has been and remains to buy time for our scientists to assess the threat and build up our defences.’

Last year Boris Johnson’s government insisted it would not cancel Christmas before eventually U-turning and locking down.

But experts say that move – before vaccines were widespread – came far too late, and within days well over 1,000 people were dying with Covid every day.

The prospect of new rules this year comes less than a week after Boris Johnson suffered a rebellion from a large number of Conservative backbenchers who defied him to vote against the mandatory use of Covid health passes for large venues.

Brexit minister Lord Frost – who quit on Saturday to add to the crisis engulfing the Prime Minister’s leadership – said in his resignation letter that ‘we also need to learn to live with Covid and I know that is your instinct too’.

Mr Johnson is thought to be concerned that implementing further restrictions could further weaken his weakening grip on power.

Meanwhile any move to cancel Christmas again would be deeply unpopular – and possibly ignored given the revelations about Downing Street Christmas parties, making post-Christmas restrictions appear more attractive.

But Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews and member of Sage, said it was clear that Plan B measures alone would not be enough to stop the spiralling numbers of cases and cautioned that waiting until after Christmas to act is ‘probably too late’.

The latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency showed there had been 10,059 additional confirmed cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 reported across the UK, bringing the total confirmed cases of the variant across the four nations to 24,968.

But the true figure is likely to be many multiples higher.

Advice from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O), in documents also released on Saturday but dated December 8 said that, in almost all modelling, a significant reduction in transmission ‘similar in scale to the national lockdown’ of January this year would be required ‘to keep hospitalisations below the height of previous peaks’.

Experts warned that indoor mixing is the ‘biggest risk factor’ for the spread of the variant, and that large gatherings risked creating ‘multiple spreading events’.

They said the ramping up of the booster programme would not help in terms of hospitals admissions at this stage, as many would be those who are infected now, before immunity has had time to build.

The Liberal Democrats have called for Parliament to be recalled on Monday to debate the next steps, with party leader Sir Ed Davey saying: ‘We cannot allow the Prime Minister to sit on his hands while the NHS and businesses are on the brink of collapse.’

Countries across Europe are also tightening restrictions, with the Netherlands announcing a full lockdown on Saturday.

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