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Any move to bring in more restrictions to tackle rising COVID cases are unlikely before 29 December, according to a Labour MP.
On Tuesday, Boris Johnson gave the go-ahead for people’s Christmas plans, but warned tougher restrictions could be implemented after Christmas Day.
The prime minister said “continuing uncertainty” about the severity of the Omicron variant and hospital admission rates means he does not believe there is enough evidence at the moment to justify stricter measures.
But with the PM promising Tory backbenchers he will recall Parliament to seek approval for any tougher measures, a senior Labour MP has said Johnson would need to do have recalled parliament on Tuesday for them to come into place before the 29 December.
Labour MP Chris Bryant tweeted: “Unless the government recalls parliament today (given the promise to Tory MPs not to act without prior parliamentary approval) I can’t see how any new restrictions could be implemented before 29 December at the earliest.”
While the PM said no further measures would be needed before Christmas Day, he warned the public that the situation remains “finely balanced” and people should “exercise caution”.
Johnson’s video message came as figures from NHS England showed that 1,904 people were in hospital in London with COVID as of 21 December, the highest number since 2 March and is up 41% from a week earlier.
Across England, 6,902 patients were in hospital with COVID on 21 December – the highest number since 10 November and up 7% week-on-week.
The Sun has reported that the government could announce a two-week circuit breaker lockdown, to start on 27 December, in the next 48 hours.
Watch: PM gives green light to Christmas but warns situation 'finely balanced'
This morning, health minister Gillian Keegan did not deny the report, but said the decision that was taken on further restrictions was “a difficult decision”.
Asked if the country continues on its current path if there is any chance that a circuit-breaker lockdown will not happen, Keegan told Sky News: “We are waiting for data on the severity, we’ll still have to wait to see where we land on that, but we can’t really say, you know.
“What we’ve said is up to Christmas we’re fine looking at the data, looking at the numbers we have at the moment, but, of course, we have to look at where this virus goes, where this variant goes, so we have to look at that data.
“I can’t tell you in advance of getting that data, but you should be cheerful because we’re doing a lot more than we could last year. We’re able to see our families.”
It comes as ministers were reportedly briefed by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) about the data relating to Omicron.
According to Politico, the report, that is set to be published this week, shows that Omicron is milder than the Delta strain – but higher transmissibility means that people who do fall severely ill will quickly fill up hospitals.
Gillian Keegan said the government will not hesitate to take further measures to tackle COVID “if it’s required to keep people safe”.
Asked if further restrictions are a question of when and not if, Keegan added: “We’ve said we have to keep that option open because you know we are looking at cases that are going up at the moment and we are looking at hospitalisation, which is going up.”
She said: “We do have to reserve that option and we won’t hesitate … if it’s required to keep people safe. But right now the balanced and proportionate response is, we believe, the one that we’ve put in place.”
Responding to the PM’s announcement on Christmas, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said “we are all breathing a sigh of relief that Christmas is going ahead as planned”, but stressed “the country also deserves some certainty about what comes after Christmas so that families and businesses can plan ahead”.
In an interview with Times Radio, due to air in full on Friday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he is not calling for a circuit-breaker because hospital admissions are “different” to where they were in autumn 2020.
Dr Margaret Harris, from the World Health Organisation, asked by Times Radio whether it is right that the UK has not published new restrictions for the new year as other countries have, said each country is different in terms of its population behaviour.
“Even though the data – things like who is sick, how many numbers – may seem the same, it is different in each population because behaviours are different,” she said.
“It’s important to understand your population, but it is also very important to let them know what their risks are and help them to really limit those risks.”
Watch: Barclay: There's considerable govt communication about COVID