LONDON: Britain’s health minister Sajid Javid declined on Sunday to rule out the chance of further COVID-19 restrictions before Christmas, saying the spread of the omicron variant was a very fast-moving situation.
Britain reported a surge in cases of the omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday, which government advisers said could be just the tip of the iceberg. London’s mayor declared a “major incident” to help the city’s hospitals cope.
Asked whether he could rule out restrictions before Christmas, Javid told BBC Television: “We are assessing the situation, it is very fast moving.”
“There are no guarantees in this pandemic I don’t think. At this point, we just have to keep everything under review.”
Javid said the government was taking the “sobering” advice of its scientists seriously, was watching the data on an “almost hourly basis” and would balance that against the broader impact of restrictions on things such as businesses and education.
He said that there was a still a lot that is not known about omicron but waiting until data is clearer may leave it too late to react to it.
More than 100 of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative lawmakers voted against the government’s latest measures to tackle the spread of COVID-19 earlier this week and Johnson is facing the biggest crisis of his premiership after a litany of scandals and missteps.
Asked if Johnson was too weak to bring in further restrictions, Javid said: “No, I don’t think that’s the case … if the government felt that further action had to be taken of course we would present that to parliament and it would be for parliament to decide.”
The number of omicron cases recorded across the country hit almost 25,000 as of 1800 GMT on Friday, up by more than 10,000 cases from 24 hours earlier, the UK Health Security Agency said.
The number of all new COVID-19 cases reported in official data on Saturday was 90,418. Cases were up 44.4 percent over the seven days to Dec. 18 compared with the previous week. Sajid Javid said the government believed around 60 percent of new COVID-19 cases in England were now omicron.
New coronavirus measures before Christmas have not been ruled out by the Health Secretary, who said there are “no guarantees” following a “sobering analysis” from scientific advisers warning about the threat from Omicron.
Sajid Javid said while there remains uncertainty about the new variant, it is time to be “more cautious” amid the rapid spread of the strain.
His comments came as it was reported stricter measures could be imposed in light of the warning from experts that there are likely already hundreds of thousands of new infections every day.
Modelling from scientific advisers, published on Saturday, showed that if ministers stuck to the current Plan B measures, there could be a peak of 3,000 hospital admissions in England per day.
Advisers also said hospital admissions with the variant in the UK are “probably around one tenth of the true number” due to a lag in reporting.
Despite the ramping-up of the booster programme, experts said it would not help in terms of hospitals admissions in the near future, as many would be people who are infected now before immunity has had time to build.
Mr Javid said Omicron is “spreading rapidly” and now accounts for around 80% of infections in London and about 60% in England.
Asked about ruling out new coronavirus measures before Christmas, he said there is “a lot of uncertainty”, but that it is “time to be more cautious”.
He told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One: “There are no guarantees in this pandemic, I don’t think. “At this point we just have to keep everything under review.”
Of the advice from scientists, he said: “It’s a very sobering analysis. We take it very seriously. “We do have to challenge data and underlying assumptions, I think that is appropriate, and take into account a broader set of facts.”
Speaking to Trevor Phillips on Sunday on Sky News, he said ministers are monitoring the data and discussing it with scientists “almost on an hourly basis”.
He confirmed that if new measures were to be proposed, Parliament would be recalled to approve them, describing that approach as “only right and proper”.
The gloomy outlook comes exactly a year after Boris Johnson cancelled Christmas for almost 18 million people across London and parts of England, in the face of the spread of the Alpha variant which had been first identified in Kent.
Mr Javid insisted that factors including vaccinations, antiviral medication and other treatments for Covid-19 mean “the situation today in terms of our defences is very different”.
Mayor Sadiq Khan
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he thought new restrictions were inevitable otherwise the health service would be on the verge of collapse under the joint pressures of staff shortages and increased hospitalizations.
Sadiq Khan announced on Saturday an emergency over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. According to the official, the city logged the largest number of new cases since the start of the pandemic, over 26,000.
“I’ve taken the decision, in consultation with our partners, to declare a major incident today,” Khan said in a Sky News broadcast.
Last week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced switching to Plan B of the strategy for fighting the virus this winter amid growing concerns about the latest coronavirus strain, which includes imposing new COVID-19 restrictions in England.
The United Kingdom has confirmed over 90,000 new cases over the last 24 hours, bringing the national total to 11,279,428.