Health Minister Sajid Javid declined to rule out stricter UK Covid-19 rules before Christmas after the country’s top health advisers pushed for higher limits to contain infections estimated to run into hundreds of thousands a day.
“It’s time to be more careful: we know this is spreading faster,” Javid told BBC News on Sunday.
When asked if he could guarantee that a so-called circuit breaker lockout would not be imposed in a few days, he replied: “There are no guarantees in this pandemic. Right now we just have to keep an eye on everything.”
Sajid Javid can’t rule out more restrictions for Christmas
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) December 19, 2021
Covid cases in the UK have risen to record levels as the rapidly spreading omicron variant gains a foothold. Positive tests have been over 90,000 each in the past two days and ministers have said the number of infections is doubling every two to three days.
Minutes released Saturday by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, or SAGE, suggested hospital admissions could peak at at least 3,000 a day without stricter regulations — well above current levels.
The projections put Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a predicament, wedged between scientific advisers who called for urgent action, and MPs who protested in record numbers last week against much lenient Covid rules than SAGE is now saying are warranted to prop up the National Health Service. to keep.
To make matters worse for the prime minister, his minister in charge of the post-Brexit negotiations, Lord David Frost, resigned his post on Saturday night and openly undermined Johnson over both his negotiations with the European Union and his response. on the rising pandemic.
“We must also learn to live with Covid,” Frost wrote in his letter of resignation to Johnson. “I hope we can get back on track soon and not be tempted by the kind of coercive measures we’ve seen elsewhere.”
The letter showed the kind of pressure his own party put on Johnson to avoid stricter rules. Last week, 100 Tory MPs voted against plans to introduce Covid passes as a requirement for access to venues and major events. The measure was only approved thanks to support from the opposition Labor party.
The “crisis of confidence” in Johnson’s leadership of the Tories “is impacting the government’s response to public health,” Labor shadow health minister Wes Streeting told Sky, adding that Javid “looked like a hostage.” of his own party.”
To put pressure on the country’s health system, the British Medical Association said nearly 50,000 NHS staff could be sick by Christmas if the government doesn’t act.
While SAGE has stopped calling for a new lockdown, SAGE said bringing back some of the restrictions used earlier in the year could “significantly reduce the spike in cases.” British newspapers are full of speculation that stricter rules could be introduced immediately after Christmas.
Johnson must now decide whether to risk the wrath of his regular MPs to take tougher measures. They are already angry over the Prime Minister’s missteps that began with his failed attempt to prevent his friend, Conservative MP Owen Paterson, from being suspended by Parliament for lobbying violations. That culminated in the party’s disastrous defeat in a special election on Thursday to replace Paterson, whose former North Shropshire seat had been Tory for nearly two centuries.
Javid told Sky the government must weigh scientific advice against the impact measures such as lockdowns have on society, businesses and children.
He said the UK is now in a different situation than it was earlier this year because of its vaccination programme, with more than half of adults having been boosted.
“If it were necessary to take further action, we would recall parliament and it should be a decision of parliament,” he said.
Cabinet Minister Steve Barclay will meet with regional governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Sunday to discuss how to tackle the rise in Covid cases, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The SAGE document said omicron is spreading fastest in London, where Mayor Sadiq Khan on Saturday called a “major incident” that allowed the city to coordinate emergency services and access government aid. Khan told BBC News on Sunday that he thinks it is “inevitable” that new restrictions will be needed.
“Earlier rather than later we will have to look at social distancing, we will have to look at household mixing,” Khan said.
Khan said that even without a formal lockdown, the current wave of the virus poses an “existential” threat to city center businesses, including hospitality and theaters, as customers flock to them. He pushed for new government support.
“This is as bad as March 2020,” Michelin-starred London chef and restaurateur Michel Roux Jr said on Sky. “What should have been our most prosperous month is now turning into a loss.”
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