No new Covid rules but PM warns 'we won't hesitate to take action to protect public'

20 December 2021, 17:05 | Updated: 21 December 2021, 01:13

Boris Johnson has urged people to get boosted, and declined to introduce new measures
Boris Johnson has urged people to get boosted, and declined to introduce new measures. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson has not announced fresh Covid restrictions but warned the data is under "constant review" and he "won't hesitate" taking further action if necessary.

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He spoke as speculation over new measures around Christmas and New Year mounted, culminating in a Cabinet meeting on Monday.

Mr Johnson did not pull the trigger on any new rules but urged people to get their booster jabs and take sensible precautions.

However, speaking in a pre-recorded statement to media after the Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister said: "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 won't hesitate to take action."

He added: "We are looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control and we will rule nothing out.

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"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.

"I think what you're seeing already is the British public understanding that and you can see in people's patterns of behaviour since we went to Plan B that they are changing the way they go about their lives, they are changing some of the assumptions they make about the things that they want to do."

Mr Johnson said there were "still some things we need to be clearer about before we decide to go further".

What is known, the PM said, was Omicron is "surging" across the UK, and that has led to a steep rise in hospital admissions in London.

But he suggested the severity, hospitalisation rate and booster effectiveness were "uncertainties".

He expressed regret for how the public's reduced socialising – even independently of any Government regulation – had impacted on hospitality, which has raised the alarm about losing revenues over a crucial period.

The PM said: "Omicron has simply exploded so fast that we have seen people naturally deciding to make sure that they protect themselves and they avoid spreading the disease."

He added: "As I said, the benefits of that course of action we may see in the next few days and weeks in the way we are able to contain the disease.

"It is important we act cautiously but it is also important we look after the hospitality industry, the theatres and other parts of our incredible entertainment industry which have suffered and are suffering."

Business rate relief, VAT relief and council funding were on hand, he said, but the "economic side" of Omicron measures would be kept under review, he said.

His comments come after more anger at revelations of alleged Downing Street socialising despite Covid restrictions.

Mr Johnson insisted a photo of himself, wife Carrie and staff milling around the No10 garden with wine was a work event.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "True to form, the Prime Minister has put his party before the public.

"Businesses wonder if they can keep trading, and families are frantic about whether they will see each other this Christmas.

"Today’s lack of clarity is shameful. Boris Johnson is unfit to lead."

Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "Boris Johnson is weak, indecisive and incapable of providing the leadership our country needs.

"His credibility has been shot to pieces, he's no longer trusted by the public or supported by his party.

"At a time when people urgently need clarity and reassurance, we have more chaos and confusion.

"Families want to know urgently what Covid measures to expect, so they can plan for the days ahead."