England won’t have any new Covid-19 restrictions before the end of 2021, health secretary Sajid Javid said on Monday (December 27) whilst the government awaits more evidence on whether the NHS can cope with high infection rates in the new year.
“There will be no further measures before the new year,” Javid told reporters, adding: “When we get into the new year, of course we will see then whether we do need to take any further measures.”
He said that the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus now accounted for around 90 per cent of cases across England and urged people to celebrate New Year cautiously.
The government’s attention is focused on the number of patients being hospitalised with Omicron after early data last week suggested the variant carried a lower risk of admission.
The latest data showed the number of patients in hospital in England with Covid-19 was its highest since March, at 8,474, but a long way off peaks above 34,000 in January.
A combination of factors, including Britain’s vaccination programme, the lag between infections and hospitalisations and the potentially less harmful effects of the Omicron variant have all been put forward by health experts as possible explanations for lower numbers.
Nevertheless, Britain has reported a total of 148,003 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test, and 12.2 million positive tests during the pandemic so far.
“We will watch carefully what is happening in the hospitals,” Javid said. “Should, in the future, we need to act, of course we won’t hesitate to do so.”
Hospitals in Britain have warned that staff absences due to Covid-19 could risk patient safety. Many industries and transport networks are also struggling with worker shortages.
However, prime minister Boris Johnson is under pressure from his own Conservative Party after a string of political scandals undermined his authority in recent months. Many Conservative lawmakers are sceptical that the benefits of new restrictions outweigh their economic costs.