Wishing you a ‘cautious’ Christmas: Cabinet minister says families should downsize their celebrations this year as Boris rules out more curbs before Dec 25

  • Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay told people to scale back their Christmas plans this year
  • He told LBC today he had downsized the number of family members, with only his in-laws attending
  • Boris Johnson has warned that tougher restrictions could be implemented after December 25 
  • WHO encouraged people to cancel Christmas, warning ‘an event cancelled is better than a life cancelled’
  • Scotland heeded the warning, announcing new restrictions and cancelling New Year’s Eve celebrations

A Government minister today urged people to scale back their Christmas plans as a resurgent Covid plunges the country back into crisis. 

Steve Barclay told LBC that he had downsized the number of family members this December 25, with only his in-laws attending, due to fears about Omicron.

The Cabinet Office minister warned: ‘We are saying to people that they should continue with Christmas but do so in a cautious way. That is what I will be doing with my own family. We can all protect our families and friends by having the booster.’

When asked what a ‘cautious Christmas’ is, he added: ‘I think it is thinking about how many people we need to see. Some of my family won’t be coming over at Christmas. My wife’s parents will be joining us but others will not.’

In a video message this evening, Boris Johnson dramatically warned that tougher restrictions could be implemented after December 25. 

The Prime Minister, who was overruled by his ministers over a Christmas lockdown yesterday, insisted ‘continuing uncertainty’ about the severity of Omicron and hospital admission rates meant there is not enough evidence at the moment to justify stricter measures.

But the situation remains ‘finely balanced’ and people should ‘exercise caution’, he added.

Mr Johnson warned: ‘There is no doubt that Omicron continues to surge with a speed unlike anything we’ve seen before. The situation remains extremely difficult but I also recognise that people have been waiting to hear whether their Christmas plans are going to be affected. So what I can say tonight is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health.

‘But in view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalisation rate or the impact of the vaccine rollout or the boosters, we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas.

‘We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed. What this means is that people can go ahead with their Christmas plans but the situation remains finely balanced and I would urge everyone to exercise caution, to keep protecting yourselves and your loved ones, especially the vulnerable.

‘And remember to keep following the guidance – wear a mask indoors when required to do so, keep fresh air circulating, and take a test before you visit elderly or vulnerable relatives.’

He went on to encourage people to ‘drop everything’ if they have yet to get a vaccine.

Mr Johnson’s comments come after Chancellor Rishi Sunak offered a £1billion support package to hospitality and leisure businesses hit by Covid restrictions amid concerns over the high transmission of Omicron.

The World Health Organisation earlier encouraged people to cancel their Christmases, warning that ‘an event cancelled is better than a life cancelled’.

Scotland today heeded the warning, announcing new restrictions and cancelling New Year’s Eve celebrations, while spectators will be banned from sport events in Wales from Boxing Day and England is said to be heading for a circuit breaker lockdown before the end of the year.

Experts are warning that Omicron transmission is ‘eye-wateringly high’ and that the country is ‘in the most difficult, most uncertain time’ since March last year. 

On another intense day of coronavirus drama: 

  • Thousands more people could be released from isolation in time for Christmas as ministers prepare to cut the period from 10 days to seven days; 
  • Sir Jeremy Farrar, a former member of SAGE, has backed the position of waiting for another day to see updated evidence on Omicron;  
  • Mr Johnson’s personal rating have slumped again, with YouGov finding a net minus 48 think he is performing well – down from minus 35 last month. Just 22 per cent approve of the government with 60 per cent disapproving; 
  • The NHS has given a million Covid jabs in a single day for the first time, but still appears to be off the pace to hit the New Year target on boosters;
  • London’s New Year’s Eve celebration event in Trafalgar Square has been axed with Sadiq Khan urging people to watch TV instead.


Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay (left) told LBC he had downsized the number of family members at his Christmas celebrations this year, with only his in-laws attending, due to fears about the spread of the Omicron variant. In a video message, Boris Johnson (right) warned tougher restrictions could be implemented after December 25

Rishi Sunak unveils £1bn bailout for stricken businesses as Boris sits on the fence over post-Christmas lockdown 

Rishi Sunak unveiled a £1billion bailout for stricken businesses today as Boris Johnson sits on the fence over Covid curbs amid infighting among ministers and top scientists.

The Chancellor has announced grants of up to £6,000 per premises for hospitality and leisure firms being crippled by a wave of cancellations following the emergence of the Omicron strain. 

The taxpayer will also cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for companies with fewer than 250 employees.   

The move – which was given a broad welcome by industry – came as another 90,629 Covid cases were recorded in 24 hours, along with 172 deaths. A further 15,363 infections with the Omicron variant have bee confirmed, bringing the total to 60,508.

The PM declared last night that there will be no more restrictions yet, defying massive pressure from experts who warn the NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed by the mutant strain. 

Mr Johnson admitted the decision was ‘finely balanced’ – with speculation that the government could still need to act with a ‘circuit breaker’ before New Year if new crucial evidence due today and tomorrow show the situation deteriorating quickly. They include an assessment from an Imperial College team on the severity of Omicron. 

However, it now looks too late to bring in any legal restrictions before December 25, with the premier having vowed to give restive MPs a say in advance. 

Former SAGE adviser Sir Jeremy Farrar told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Omicron is spreading unbelievably fast. It is a phenomenal variant, transmission is eye-wateringly high, but there is great uncertainty.

‘What is it going to lead to in terms of pressure on the health system, people going to hospital, people dying, but also what impact is it going to have on the broader society, staff absences, the ability to have functioning other services? So there is great uncertainty.

‘My personal view is that I think we can wait at the moment until there are more restrictions formally placed, but each of us can do a lot of things today that would make the chances of further restrictions lighter.

‘More data will be available today and tomorrow and I would act on those if transmission is rising still and if hospitalisations are going up across the country.’

He said that, until recently, Omicron was doubling every two days and it was not yet known if that was levelling off.

People were already changing their behaviour and workplaces were breaking up for the Christmas break, meaning previous predictions of between six and 10 million cases by the New Year were ‘unlikely to happen’, he said.

Nevertheless, the former Government adviser warned of a potential impact on essential workers, including nurses, doctors and teachers, if transmission is not curbed.

He said: ‘At the moment, with the incredibly difficult policy and political decisions that need to be made, this is a time of great uncertainty, but I think waiting for that data for the formal decisions doesn’t mean to say that all of us can’t do what we can do over the coming days and weeks to reduce the chance of transmission and all of our sectors suffering and the economic damage that comes from that.’ 

Ms Sturgeon cancelled large scale New Year celebrations in Scotland as she unveiled additional restrictions to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, prompting business leaders to accuse her of giving firms ‘a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking’.

The Scottish First Minister revealed there had been nine new deaths and 5,242 positive tests in the last 24 hours, down on the 6,734 cases recorded yesterday, as she said official advice for Christmas Day remains unchanged, with people allowed to meet with family but urged to be cautious.

But from December 26 for three weeks there will be attendance limits placed on live public events which will torpedo Hogmanay festivities.

The limits will not apply to private life events like weddings, but Ms Sturgeon said for indoor standing events the limit will be 100 people, for indoor seated events it will be 200 and for outdoor events 500 seated or standing. This will mean that from Boxing Day football and other sporting matches in Scotland will effectively be spectator-free.

Ms Sturgeon also said that from December 27 the Scottish Government is advising people to return to limiting their social contacts ‘as much as you possibly can’ while a table service-only requirement will be reimposed on hospitality venues serving alcohol, lasting for an initial period of three weeks.

Scottish business leaders blast Nicola Sturgeon after she CANCELS New Year celebrations, bans spectators from football matches and makes pubs table service-only due to Omicron fears 

Nicola Sturgeon today cancelled large scale New Year celebrations in Scotland as she unveiled additional coronavirus restrictions to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, prompting business leaders to accuse her of giving firms ‘a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking’.

The Scottish First Minister revealed there had been nine new deaths and 5,242 positive tests in the last 24 hours, down on the 6,734 cases recorded yesterday, as she said official advice for Christmas Day remains unchanged, with people allowed to meet with family but urged to be cautious.

But from December 26 for three weeks there will be attendance limits placed on live public events which will torpedo Hogmanay festivities.

The limits will not apply to private life events like weddings, but Ms Sturgeon said for indoor standing events the limit will be 100 people, for indoor seated events it will be 200 and for outdoor events 500 seated or standing.

This will mean that from Boxing Day football and other sporting matches in Scotland will effectively be spectator-free.

Ms Sturgeon also said that from December 27 the Scottish Government is advising people to return to limiting their social contacts ‘as much as you possibly can’ while a table service-only requirement will be reimposed on hospitality venues serving alcohol, lasting for an initial period of three weeks.

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said the new restrictions represented ‘another hammer blow’ for businesses and many will view it ‘as the equivalent of receiving a lump of coal in their Christmas stocking’.

The moves will pile the pressure on Boris Johnson after he yesterday delayed making a decision on imposing new coronavirus curbs in England as ministers wait for key data to be given to them today.

Mr Johnson is under pressure from his scientific experts to act now but there has been heavy criticism of the claim from SAGE modellers that deaths could reach 6,000 a day in a worst case scenario, and although daily cases have been rising sharply and topped 100,000 on December 15 they are still short of the levels feared.

Ms Sturgeon appeared to fire a shot at the Prime Minister as she said ‘we know from experience that if we wait until the data tells us conclusively that we have a problem… it will already be too late to act to avoid that problem’.

Her announcements came after Rishi Sunak unveiled a £1billion bailout for stricken businesses as Mr Johnson sits on the fence over Covid curbs amid infighting among ministers and top scientists.

The Chancellor has announced grants of up to £6,000 for hospitality and leisure firms being crippled by a wave of cancellations following the emergence of the Omicron strain.

The taxpayer will also cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for companies with fewer than 250 employees.

The move – which was given a broad welcome by industry – comes despite the PM declaring last night that there will be no more restrictions in England yet, defying massive pressure from experts who warn the NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed by the mutant strain. 

Mr Johnson admitted the decision was ‘finely balanced’ – with speculation that the Government could still need to act with a ‘circuit breaker’ before New Year if new crucial evidence due today and tomorrow show the situation deteriorating quickly. 

They include an assessment from an Imperial College team on the severity of Omicron.

However, it now looks too late to bring in any legal restrictions before December 25, with the premier having vowed to give restive MPs a say in advance.

Mr Johnson said the latest Omicron data will be kept under ‘hour by hour’ review, with the holding line coming after a long and ‘fractious’ Cabinet meeting.

Ministers including Mr Sunak demanded more solid proof on the threat from the Omicron variant before signing off on further measures. 

Leading statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter has pointed out that around half of new Covid admissions in London only tested positive after arriving at hospital, possibly for a different ailment – although he stressed they would still add to pressure on the health service.

Official figures revealed that Covid was mentioned on 764 death certificates registered in England and Wales in the week to December 10 – 4 per cent down from the previous week and the lowest level since October.

Mr Johnson (pictured in Downing Street) has stepped back from imposing punitive curbs that would have ruined Christmas

The rush hour at King’s Cross in London was quieter than normal this morning amid Covid concerns

Unvaccinated people who caught Delta have virtually no protection against Omicron infection, lab study suggests – but people who’ve had it AND been jabbed have incredible ‘super immunity’ 

People who are unjabbed but previously had the Delta Covid variant may have very little protection against Omicron infection, a lab study suggests.

Austrian scientists tested the blood of those who had beat the older strain of the virus against the new super-variant to measure their antibody response.

They found only one out of seven samples produced enough of the infection-fighting proteins to neutralise Omicron.

It suggests that prior infection from Delta alone offers virtually no protection against catching Omicron — but the jury’s still out on severe illness.

Antibody studies look at one very specific part of the immune response to Covid and do not take into account T cell and B cell immunity, which are vital for protection against severe disease but more difficult to measure.

Most scientists believe people who have had Covid still enjoy some protection against serious outcomes, but immunity is known to wane significantly after six months.

The latest study, by the Medical University of Innsbruck, found that if Delta survivors go on to get a vaccine they become ‘super-immune’, even against infection.

 

Conservative MPs warned that it would be ‘dangerous’ to ignore the scientific advice, and raised concerns that the Government may be ‘missing the boat’ on implementing further public health measures.

Meanwhile the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, said she believes people would accept more public health measures, but that it was ‘outrageous’ the Government did not hold a press conference and lay out the latest data on Monday because people need the information to make decisions.

‘I’m not averse to further measures based upon sound science,’ Sir Roger Gale said, adding, ‘my worry is that we may be once again missing the boat because of the pressure the Prime Minister has been put under by his own backbench and as a result in part of course of his own folly, and that he may be reluctant to take action that is actually necessary.’

The Conservative MP for North Thanet stressed the need for adequate support for business and said without formal restrictions the hospitality industry is ‘between a rock and a hard place’.

Sir Roger said: ‘I have been highly critical of many things that the Government and the Prime Minister have done, but I wouldn’t wish to stop them doing the right things now.

‘I think – there’s no doubt about this – there is a public reaction against being told what to do simply because, and I’m afraid this is true, people feel the Government didn’t do themselves what they told us to do last time so why should we bloody well listen now.

‘And I think there will be, if they were to try to do much before Christmas, I think there would be one hell of a backlash, and people would just say get stuffed I’m afraid – dangerous though that certainly would be.

‘There’s no doubt the infection rates are rising alarmingly and there’s no doubt in my mind that fairly soon the health service is going to have even more real problems than it’s got now.’

Ms Moran said: ‘I think most people would accept more protections at this point, and they would understand the reasons why, but no-one can decide for themselves or make a common sense decision, as the Government seems to like to think that we ought to be able to do, without the data.’

She said: ‘If it’s a case of it’s finely balanced, should we do more or less now, I would be in the camp of doing more. The problem I have, and the problem I think most MPs have, unless they have had the recent data, is that we just don’t know all the information.

‘I think it’s inevitable that more restrictions – protections – are coming. The question is going to be the timing. And I honestly don’t know if we can afford to wait or not because I haven’t seen the data.’

Responding to rumours of some kind of circuit-breaker akin to a brief lockdown after Christmas, Ms Moran said it would be ‘absolutely devastating for the country’ and a sign of ‘Government failure’ to take the appropriate measures earlier, but she said she would back measures suggested by the scientific advisers to save lives.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus earlier told reporters: ‘All of us are sick of this pandemic, all of us want to spend time with friends and family, all of us want to get back to normal.

‘The fastest way to do this is for all of us, leaders and individuals, to make the difficult decisions that must be made to protect ourselves and others.

‘In some cases, that will mean cancelling or delaying events, just as we have had to cancel the reception we planned to have with you (journalists) today. But an event cancelled is better than a life cancelled. It’s better to cancel now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later.’ 

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