Boris Johnson has warned the public to expect new controls to curb the spread of the Omicron variant amid fears the NHS could be overwhelmed.
Following a special two-hour meeting the Cabinet, the Prime Minister said they were monitoring the data “hour by hour”.
However, he said the arguments for taking action were “very, very finely balanced” – indicating fresh measures were unlikely before Christmas.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Hospital admissions rising
Mr Johnson said: “We have got cases of Omicron surging across the country now. We have got hospital admissions rising quite steeply in London and the obvious conclusion is that it was right to go fast with Plan B in the way that we did and also right to double the speed of the booster rollout.”
“In view of the balance of risks and uncertainties, particularly around the infection, hospitalisation rate of Omicron – how many people does Omicron put in hospital – and some other uncertainties to do with the severity, the effectiveness and so on we agreed that we should keep the data from now on under constant review.”
He said “in many ways I regret” the impact on hospitality of Plan B and people socialising less, but added: “If it can help to get down the R (rate of infection), get down the way the disease is multiplying, that can be very helpful to us and the country.”
Patrick Dardis, the boss of pub chain Young’s, has said that hundreds of thousands of jobs might be at risk if the Government brings back rules that only allow pubs and restaurants to serve customers who are seated outside.
“Not sure what will happen, rumours regarding ‘rule of six’ and outdoors-only, again,” he said.
“Outdoor and/or rule of six would devastate the entire hospitality brewing sector that directly employs over three million.
“Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be at risk and thousands and thousands of businesses will close permanently.”