New Covid-19 restrictions are unlikely to stop Christmas celebrations from going ahead this week, despite the rapidly surging Omicron variant.
The Prime Minister urged people to be cautious following an emergency Cabinet meeting on Monday (20 December) and said the situation is being monitored “hour by hour”.
After a two hour meeting, Mr Johnson said the government needs to be clearer about the rate of hospital admissions linked to the Omicron variant and how effective vaccines are against it, before additional rules are put in place in England.
‘Further action’ could be taken
While no further rules have yet been announced, Boris Johnson warned that the government will “reserve the possibility of taking further action” to halt the spread of the new variant, but it is expected that stricter measures will not be imposed until after Christmas.
The Financial Times said a senior government insider told the paper: “We are not planning to introduce new restrictions this side of Christmas”, with people instead told to focus on “exercising caution”.
However, the Queen has already abandoned her Christmas plans to travel to Sandringham, while London mayor Sadiq Khan has cancelled the capital’s New Year’s Eve celebrations “in the interests of public safety”.
Labour, which has said it would support the government on any further public health measures that are needed, accused Mr Johnson of putting party interests before the country.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the PM was failing to set out a “clear plan” and is instead choosing to “protect himself from his own MPs by simply not saying anything”.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey added that Mr Johnson had offered only “chaos” at a time when the country needed clarity.
He said: “Families want to know urgently what Covid measures to expect, so they can plan for the days ahead.
“Ducking the difficult decisions is not a plan.”
What further measures could be put in place?
It is expected that further restrictions will not be put in place until after Christmas, with a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown reportedly being considered for 28 December which would see a ban on household mixing, according to The Times.
The Telegraph has also reported that the Prime Minister has been presented with three possible options to tackle the Omicron spread, each varying in severity.
Option one would see families in England asked to limit the number of people they meet indoors over the festive period, without legal enforcement.
The second option would mandate restrictions on household mixing, as well as see the return of social distancing and an 8pm curfew on pubs and restaurants.
Option three, which would be the strictest of all, would see a full lockdown put in place, most likely after Christmas.
Mr Johnson has said the arguments for taking action over Omicron were “very, very finely balanced” and there are still “uncertainties” around the severity of the new strain, its impact on the rate of hospital admissions and its effect on vaccines.
He said: “There are still some things that we need to be clearer about before we decide to go further.
“Unfortunately I must say to people that we will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public, to protect public health, to protect our NHS.
“We are looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control and we will rule nothing out.
“But at the moment, what I think we want people to focus on is exercising caution – so ventilation, masks in the appropriate places, all the usual stuff about washing hands, but remember how contagious Omicron really is.”