PM not expected to introduce new Covid measures after crunch data briefing with scientists

27 December 2021, 08:10 | Updated: 27 December 2021, 14:23

Boris Johnson will receive a Covid data briefing from Professor Chris Whitty
Boris Johnson will receive a Covid data briefing from Professor Chris Whitty. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Boris Johnson is not expected to introduce new coronavirus restrictions on Monday following a meeting with Government scientists, according to the PA news agency.

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Boris Johnson will meet with Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Valance on Monday to be presented with the latest Covid data as he weighs up whether to impose fresh curbs on England.

The PA news agency reports that no new restrictions are expected to be introduced as a result of the meeting, although this is yet to be confirmed by No10.

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A senior Conservative backbencher previously urged Boris Johnson to be "very cautious" before applying further restrictions to deal with the threat of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, told LBC on Monday that hospitalisations had so far remained "relatively stable" despite the surge in infections and so advised Mr Johnson to be "very cautious before introducing further measures".

"All these medics try and make out the worst possible case, but actually if you look at the infectivity rate among the entire population of the UK, in every category for tests of antibodies it is well over 90 per cent," he said.

"The latest figures we had before Christmas showed that the number of cases in hospital was relatively stable - and that is the main measure why we need any further lockdowns, is to deal with infectivity in hospitals, and I don't see that before Christmas.

"So, I hope the Prime Minister will be very, very cautious before introducing further measures."

New measures have already come into force in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but ministers have so far swerved dictating new rules to those in England, instead hoping warnings would encourage people to self-police their own behaviour and cut down on social contacts.

The Prime Minister is expected to be briefed by Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Whitty - who is reportedly likely to receive a knighthood for his pandemic efforts - and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick.

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If the figures are positive, Mr Johnson could be persuaded to stick to lighter touch measures introduced under Plan B, potentially with some extra words of guidance.

However, if cases were beginning to put unsustainable pressure on the NHS, the PM may feel the need to intervene with more stringent restrictions.

If the Prime Minister decides to introduce new restrictions he would need to recall Parliament - something that Mr Clifton-Brown told LBC he does not yet believe there are plans to do.

"I can tell you, as of this moment... I have received no notification for a recall of Parliament," he said.

"Of course, what the Government could do is make further measures advisory, but actually after the last legal set of measures which we voted on, a lot of us actually rejected, people have actually been very, very cautious themselves."

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He said measures had a knock-on effect on people's mental wellbeing as well as the economy.

"I actually have an idea that this Omicron variant could be our way out of all of this," he said.

"Because large numbers of people are going to be infected by it, but - if we're right that it's not as severe as the Delta [variant] - it means people are getting infected, building up more antibodies and hopefully that will then produce more resistance in the population and less people will become seriously ill as a result of it.

"But that's just an idea," he added.

Weddings and funerals could be exempt from any new rules, whether that be guidance or legal restrictions, according to a report in The Times.

It comes as the latest NHS figures showed that more than 10,000 patients waited 12 hours before being admitted to hospital in November, up from 2,148 the same time last year.

A record number of NHS trusts recorded patients had waited nearly 24 hours between arriving at hospital by ambulance and being assessed.

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Data from NHS England for October 2021 records the longest waits between arriving at A&E and an initial assessment.

And almost one-third of all trusts recorded a longest wait of between 23 and 24 hours.

Some 23 trusts reported the longest wait for an assessment was 1,439 mins, just one minute short of 24 hours.

Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: "24 hours in A&E isn't just a TV show, it's now what patients are forced to go through under the Tories."

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "Health leaders are responding to the pressures that increasing numbers of hospital admissions, and increasing levels of staff absence, are already placing on frontline services.

"Now is the time for the Government to be clear on what action it needs to take to get a grip on the situation."

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Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reported schools were drawing up plans to send whole year groups home for remote learning if staff shortages due to Omicron hit after the Christmas holidays.

It is understood school closures are not being considered by ministers for January.

A source close to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: "The PM and Nadhim are fully committed to keeping schools open and there's a shared commitment across Government to do so.

"Education is a top priority and school closures are not something being considered."

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, told the Telegraph, headteachers were "hoping for the best but planning for the worst".

He said: "If you have a fixed pool available of those who can teach young people, then the only final resort schools and colleges have is to start thinking about the certain year groups that should be prioritised in the short term."