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The Health Secretary spoke out as Boris Johnson and his ministers discuss whether extra restrictions that could curtail New Year’s Eve celebrations are needed. No announcements will be made until after tomorrow. Mr Javid gave a guarded welcome to reports from Imperial College in London and Edinburgh University suggesting Omicron symptoms were milder than those of the Delta variant.
He said: “They do suggest that the risk of hospitalisation is lower than Delta and that of course is good, that’s encouraging news. We do know with Omicron that it does spread a lot more quickly and is a lot more infectious than Delta. So any advantage gained from reduced risk of hospitalisation needs to be set against that. If a much smaller percentage of people are at the risk of hospitalisation, if that’s a smaller percentage of a much larger number, there could be still significant hospitalisation.”
Mr Javid said people should enjoy Christmas but “remain cautious”. He added: “We will keep analysing that data and if we need to do anything more, we will.” Mr Javid admitted staff absences from Covid added to NHS pressures, but said: “Some of the recent moves we have had, moving from 10-day to seven-day isolation if you take a test in the last two days… I think all of that will help.”
But Tory backbenchers against more Covid curbs seized on the reports. Andrew Bridgen urged ministers not to impose any New Year’s Eve restrictions and to consider lifting the Plan B contingency measures, including face masks indoors.
And he accused Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford of having an “authoritarian streak” for introducing far more stringent rules than those in England.
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Mr Bridgen said: “Banning Hogmanay celebrations will go down like a bowl of cold porridge north of the border.” Tory peer Lord Hannan said: “Never again should we allow the burden of proof to be reversed. The onus must always be on proponents of new curbs to show that they are necessary, not on defenders of liberty to show that they are not.”
At an emergency Cabinet meeting on Monday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak led a majority of ministers in blocking potential curbs. After the meeting, Mr Johnson said the Covid outlook facing the country was “finely balanced” but so far the evidence did not justify immediate action.
Measures could include a fresh curfew on pubs and restaurants or a return to table or outdoors-only service. Last night, Big Brother Watch launched a legal challenge against Covid passes for nightclubs and other venues. The civil liberties pressure group called them “draconian, discriminatory and pointless” and a breach of privacy.
The challenge follows the biggest backbench rebellion of Boris Johnson’s premiership on December 14, when 99 Tory MPs opposed the plan in the Commons. ? Sajid Javid delivered a Christmas “thank you” to NHS staff. He said: “This year, everyone working in health and social care has shown our country at its very best. Thank you for everything that you’ve done and everything that you’re doing – this Christmas, and all year round.”
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