Cabinet meeting as ministers 'push back' against Xmas Covid curbs suggested by scientists

20 December 2021, 08:10 | Updated: 20 December 2021, 15:42

Boris Johnson is being urged not to impose new Covid restrictions ahead of Christmas, with Rishi Sunak said to be among senior ministers questioning scientific advice
Boris Johnson is being urged not to impose new Covid restrictions ahead of Christmas, with Rishi Sunak said to be among senior ministers questioning scientific advice. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

A cabinet meeting has been called for this afternoon as ministers consider whether to impose fresh Covid restrictions to combat the Omicron variant in the run-up to Christmas.

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A virtual meeting with the PM and senior ministers will take place at 2pm today.

Several ministers have reportedly pushed back against calls from scientific advisers for new measures to tackle the surge in cases of the Omicron variant, with less than a week until Christmas day.

According to reports, up to one third of Boris Johnson's Cabinet are against the introduction of further restrictions during the festive period, including the Prime Minister himself.

Mr Johnson is said to have 'cleared his diary' today for a series of talks with senior ministers and scientists.

It is understood three options are on the table; restrictions on indoor mixing, a pub curfew, and an immediate lockdown.

The Government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance called for new restrictions to be brought in as soon as possible to prevent the health service being overwhelmed.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told LBC today that the government was moving 'heaven and earth' to avoid fresh restrictions this side of Christmas.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), published advice at the weekend warning there are likely already hundreds of thousands of new Omicron infections every day in England and that hospital admissions with the variant in the UK are "probably around one tenth of the true number" due to a lag in reporting.

But around one third of the Cabinet are said to be reluctant to support new restrictions including Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, according to The Times.

It comes as "catastrophic" figures revealed as many as one in three NHS staff in London could be off work by New Year's Eve due to Omicron.

Read more: Govt wants ex-teachers to return to classrooms and solve Omicron staff shortages

Read more: 'Catastrophic' NHS staff shortages due to Omicron as variant spreads through London

The possible staff absence levels were reported by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) as the capital deals with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

London's Mayor Sadiq Khan warned that if restrictions are not brought in soon the NHS could be "on the verge of collapse", with sickness affecting workforce levels.

But despite reports of Ministers opposing the possible introduction of further restrictions, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said it is time to be "more cautious" and did not rule out new measures before Christmas, telling BBC One's Andrew Marr programme there are "no guarantees in this pandemic".

The Treasury announced on Sunday that extra funding to tackle Covid-19 across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had been doubled to a total of £860 million.

Mr Sunak said the boost was to ensure people were supported "in the face of this serious health crisis".

Read more: Fresh pressure on Johnson as PM pictured at Downing St garden 'gathering during lockdown'

Read more: Truss takes over as Brexit minister as PM tries to steady ship after Frost resignation

It comes as Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was kicked out of a Conservative WhatsApp group after urging MPs to show the prime minister "a bit of loyalty".

The prime minister is facing growing criticism from backbenchers, including the biggest rebellion during his time as PM on Tuesday, when 100 Tory MPs voted against coronavirus restrictions for England.

In the WhatsApp group she wrote: "The hero is the Prime Minister who delivered Brexit.

"I'm aware as someone said today that regicide is in the DNA of the Conservative party, but a bit of loyalty to the person who won an 83 majority and delivered Brexit wouldn't go amiss."