Boris Johnson was expected to make an announcement this week on whether tighter Covid restrictions will be introduced in England – but it now appears no changes are imminent.
The Prime Minister was presented with the latest data on the spread of the Omicron variant on Monday. However, Sajid Javid later confirmed that England would not face new measures until 2022 at the earliest.
It now appears that the current Plan B rules are remaining in place for now – here’s what we know about when to expect the next announcement from the PM.
Will Boris Johnson give a Covid announcement today?
While the Prime Minister was being briefed on the Covid data on Monday 27 December, he was not expected to make an official announcement on the day.
Indeed, it was the Health Secretary who revealed the Government’s latest decision on restrictions, confirming that no new measures would be introduced before the New Year despite the spread of the Omicron variant.
If Mr Johnson does deliver an update on the latest response to the Covid pandemic in the UK, it will therfore be on Tuesday 28 December at the earliest.
Throughout the pandemic, press conferences or significant updates have tended to come in the early evening, at around 5pm.
The PM’s last major briefing came in the form of a video message (rather than a full press conference) on Tuesday 21 December.
In that, Mr Johnson confirmed there would be no further restrictions introduced before Christmas Day, but warned that there could be new measures after the festive period.
What could new Covid restrictions look like?
On Monday, Mr Javid advised people planning on celebrating New Year’s Eve to take a rapid test before going out, and to party outdoors or with ventilation indoors if possible.
He said: “Of course we look at the data on a daily basis, that hasn’t changed over the Christmas period.
“But there will be no further measures before the New Year. We won’t be taking any further measures.”
The Health Secretary added: “Please remain cautious and when we get into the New Year, of course, we will see then whether we do need to take any further measures but nothing more until then at least.”
Recent findings from the UK Health Security Agency suggest Omicron is milder than the previously dominant Delta, with people 50-70 per cent less likely to be hospitalised with the variant.
However, Mr Javid’s comments indicate that England could still see further restrictions introduced if the situation worsens and figures suggest the NHS could face being overwhelmed in the New Year.
Whatever happens, The Times reports that weddings and funerals would be exempt from any new rules, while it is understood school closures are not being considered by ministers for January.
- Stick to Plan B: This is the likely option if the data continues to provide an optimistic picture on the Omicron wave, with England proceeding as normal, under Plan B rules.
- Soft Plan C: This option is most likely if the data shows no real improvement in cases or admissions, suggesting the NHS will still come under intense, but not unsustainable, pressure in January. Mr Johnson, facing an even greater Tory rebellion in Parliament if he tries to introduce legal restrictions, opts for toughening the guidance. This could include advising people not to mix indoors, which would have an impact on reducing transmission between households.
- Hard Plan C: If the figures show the Omicron wave is continuing to rage through the UK, Johnson may decide the best option is to implement legally enforced restrictions, similar to Step 2 of the roadmap in place in England last spring. Restrictions could include a ban on indoor gatherings in both private homes and in restaurants and bars. Hospitality settings could stay open but would have to serve outdoors, and there would be limits on outdoor gatherings of two households or a maximum of six people.
- Full lockdown: This is the least likely scenario, and would only be considered if cases began to rise exponentially again and hospitals are unable to cope. People would be told to stay at home except essential shopping, and all hospitality and retail would close, although even in a full lockdown it is expected they would remain open.