Boris Johnson is reportedly not expected to introduce further curbs next week as his health secretary tells the British people they ‘must try to live with Covid’ in 2022.
New Year’s Eve revellers hit the town restriction-free in England last night as another record-breaking coronavirus surge was reported – with 189,846 new UK infections.
Hospital admissions are at their highest level in England since January, while the number of NHS hospital staff absent due to the virus has nearly doubled in a month.
The actual number of daily cases could be closer to half a million amid an ‘unprecedented wave’, according to government adviser Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter.
The British Medical Association has called for further public health measures ‘urgently to prevent the health service being completely overwhelmed’.
But the prime minister is likely to maintain his refusal to introduce restrictions like the rule of six and table service, as seen in other UK nations, The Sun claims.
Plan B measures like mask-wearing and the working from home order are likely to be extended.
Mr Johnson is keeping a close eye on Omicron data before he reviews restrictions on Tuesday.
Ministers have reportedly been reassured by new evidence that suggests the new variant is up to 70% milder than Delta.
New figures this weekend also showed 33% of people who have Covid in hospital were admitted for other reasons.
It comes as Sajid Javid warns restrictions on freedom ‘must be an absolute last resort’.
Writing in the Daily Mail, he said ‘numbers in intensive care units are stable and not currently following the trajectory we saw this time last year’.
The health minister appeared proud of how the Omicron wave has been handled by the UK Government, saying England had ‘welcomed in 2022 with some of the least restrictive measures in Europe’.
Revellers flooded across borders into England last night after Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all brought in new rules.
Mr Javid said: ‘Curbs on our freedom must be an absolute last resort and the British people rightly expect us to do everything in our power to avert them.
‘Since I came into this role six months ago, I’ve also been acutely conscious of the enormous health, social and economic costs of lockdowns.
‘So I’ve been determined that we must give ourselves the best chance of living alongside the virus and avoiding strict measures in the future.’
However, Mr Javid and NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor have both agreed the wave of infections will ‘test the limits of finite NHS capacity even more than a typical winter’.
Mr Taylor said the pressures hospitals continue to face will have an impact on decisions.
‘But, when you’re facing the kind of pressures the health service is going to be under for the next few weeks, this is the kind of thing managers have to do.’
He added: ‘I understand how much people want to return to normal and I’m confident that, as this year progresses, we will be able to do that, and we all hope that 2022 is the year in which coronavirus just becomes an illness that we live with, not an illness that dominates our lives.
‘But you can have the optimism but still recognise the next few weeks are going to be very tough and we need to do whatever is necessary to get us through these next few weeks.’