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 Omicron 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 new 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 watching the data on an “almost hourly basis” and listening to its scientific advisers and would balance that against the broader impact of restrictions on things such as businesses and education.
He said 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 confirmed Omicron cases recorded across the country was 37,101 as of 1800 GMT on Dec 18, the UK Health Security Agency said on Sunday, up by more than 12,000 cases from 24 hours earlier. Twelve people believed to have had the Omicron variant had died as of Friday.
Javid said the actual number of Omicron infections was likely to be a lot higher.
The number of all new Covid-19 cases reported in official data on Sunday was 82,886, up 51.9% over the seven days to Dec 19 compared with the previous week.
Javid said the government believed around 60% of new Covid-19 cases in England were now Omicron.
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 hospitalisations.