No new Covid rules in England before new year

There will be no further Covid restrictions in England before the new year, Sajid Javid has said.

But the health secretary said people should “remain cautious” and celebrate outside on New Year’s Eve if possible.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said ministers would “continue to monitor the data carefully” and urged people to get their “first, second or booster jab without delay”.

Meanwhile, both England and Scotland reported record cases over Christmas.

The figures showed there were 113,628 new infections reported in England on 25 December, 103,558 on 26 December and 98,515 on 27 December. Provisional data for Scotland for the same three-day period showed there were 8,252 cases on Christmas Day, with 11,030 the following day and 10,562 on Monday.

Only partial Covid data for the UK has been published over the Christmas period, and full figures will be published later this month.

Dr Sarah Pitt, a virologist at the University of Brighton, told the news the cases data was “likely to be an underestimate” for several reasons, including people being less inclined to come forward for a test on Christmas Day and data processing delays over the festive season.

The decision not to introduce new measures in England comes hours after the prime minister was briefed by England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

It puts England out of step with the rest of the UK: Wales has already introduced more curbs, while Scotland and Northern Ireland have both tightened rules for a second day, with hospitality venues returning to table service only and social distancing returning in several settings.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said many people would be relieved to see no new restrictions, but urged the government to release the data that informed the decision, “so that the public can be reassured that… Boris Johnson is not simply capitulating to his own opponents in the Tory party”.

Early findings last week suggested people infected with the fast-spreading Omicron variant were less likely to be admitted to hospital – although a range of factors is likely to be examined when looking at the case for restrictions.

Mr Javid said: “When we get into the new year, of course we will see then whether we do need to take any further measures, but nothing more until then at least.”

The health secretary said 90% of cases across England were now the Omicron variant.

Latest figures also showed there were 8,474 people with Covid currently in hospital in England – the highest since March, but well below last winter’s peak of more than 34,000.

Not all the patients in hospital will be being treated for Covid – about three in 10, according to latest data, have Covid but are in hospital for something else.

Meanwhile, the UK has massively ramped up its booster programme in response to Omicron, which was first identified in South Africa just one month ago.

A record 968,665 booster jabs and third doses were reported in one day last week. More than 12,000 vaccinations were given in England on Christmas Day – including 955 first doses – and the NHS said a further 1.5 million vaccination slots were available to book in in the coming days.

Omicron: What we know so far

This variant is very contagious – it spreads faster than others and can infect people even if they are fully vaccinated
Vaccines and boosters are still essential – they do a great job at protecting against severe disease that could put you in hospital
It is milder – if you catch it, the risk of needing hospital treatment is up to 70% lower than with previous variants – but that is largely because many of us have built up immunity from vaccines and past infections rather than changes to the virus
Even if Omicron is milder, because it is more contagious a large number of people will catch it and some will still become very ill, which puts pressure on the NHS.

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