Covid: Sajid Javid refuses to rule out new coronavirus restrictions before Christmas

Rapidly rising Covid cases threaten the festive season, ITV News Reporter Lewis Warner reports

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has refused to rule out implementing further restrictions before Christmas, saying "there are no guarantees in this pandemic".

Speaking on the The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One as the Omicron Covid variant rapidly spreads throughout the UK, he said "at this point we just have to keep everything under review".

It comes after scientific advisers to the government said hospital admissions with the Covid variant in the UK are “probably around one tenth of the true number” due to a lag in reporting.

The “situation update” from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on Thursday was published on Saturday and said that it is “almost certain that there are now hundreds of thousands of new Omicron infections per day” in England.

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Mr Javid described the advice from Sage on the possible impact of hospital admissions from Omicron as "sobering", adding the government takes "it very seriously".

He added: “We are assessing the situation, it’s very fast-moving. We’ve seen with Omicron there’s a lot that we still don’t know about Omicron.

“That’s the truth of the matter. The reality is there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

And he said it was “time to be more cautious”.

“We know this thing is spreading rapidly. We know already now that in London, it’s around 80% of infections, in England it’s around 60% of infections,” he added.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a major incident on Saturday due to the “hugely concerning” surge in cases across the capital, as he voiced fears about staff absences in vital public services including the NHS, the fire service and police due to infection.

A Sage scientist also warned that new measures are needed soon to combat the Omicron variant.

Asked by Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News if the scientific data suggests further restrictions are needed and needed now, Professor Sir Mark Walport said: “In a word, yes.”

He said infections are “rising fast” and there needs to be time allowed for recently administered vaccines and boosters to take effect.

He said: “We need to act to hold down the rate of hospital admissions, reduce the pressure on the workforce – and of course a lot of people are off sick at the moment – and most importantly of all, give people the chance to get vaccinated, to get boosted, and allow time for those vaccinations to have effect.”

Professor Walport said this is the second Christmas which could be "significantly ruined" for people.

He said he supported England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty's advice to "prioritise social interactions that really matter to them", adding "the less (contact with other people) the better".

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Speaking on the Trevor Phillips On Sunday show on Sky News, the Sage member said: “He is the nation’s public health doctor and he’s giving excellent public health advice."

And London mayor Sadiq Khan said it was “inevitable” that new coronavirus measures would be brought in.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that “the direction of travel is only going one way: cases doubling over two days”, adding that the NHS was on its knees, and he said there “must, must, must be a major package of support for our hospitality, culture, and retail”.

Mr Javid also spoke about the "damaging impact" unvaccinated people are having on the NHS, adding they are "taking up hospital beds that could be used for someone else".

He said 10% of the population – more than five million people – still had not received their jabs, and around nine out of 10 of those needing the most care in hospital were unvaccinated.

Experts warned that indoor mixing is the “biggest risk factor” for the spread of the variant. Credit: PA

And Mr Javid said: “I just cannot emphasise enough the impact that they are having on the rest of society.

“They must really think about the damage they are doing to society by… they take up hospital beds that could have been used for someone with maybe a heart problem, or maybe someone who is waiting for elective surgery.

“But instead of protecting themselves and protecting the community they choose not to get vaccinated. They are really having a damaging impact and I just can’t stress enough, please do come forward and get vaccinated.”

The prospect of new rules comes less than a week after Boris Johnson suffered a rebellion from a large number of Conservative backbenchers who defied him to vote against the mandatory use of Covid health passes for large venues.

Brexit minister Lord Frost, who quit on Saturday, gave an indication of his belief as to the Prime Minister’s mindset, saying in his resignation letter that “we also need to learn to live with Covid and I know that is your instinct too”.

Travel industry takes a hit

Germany on Sunday banned most travellers from Britain. Only German nationals and residents can travel to the country, and they must have a negative test and quarantine for two weeks, even if they have been vaccinated.

The new rules come into force from Sunday evening.

Denmark, France, Norway and Lebanon have also been added to Germany's list of high risk countries.

France on Saturday also banned tourists from travelling to and from the UK.

Football fixtures hit by Covid

The spread of Omicron has also dealt a blow to the football schedule, with numerous games postponed due to outbreaks at clubs.

Leicester's game on Sunday at Everton was one of six games postponed this weekend. Chelsea's appeal to have their league game against Wolves delayed was denied.

Premier League clubs are due to hold talks on Monday about what to do about the worsening situation.

Latest Covid figures

The latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency showed there had been 10,059 additional confirmed cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 reported across the UK, bringing the total confirmed cases of the variant across the four nations to 24,968.

In England, the number of deaths of people with the Omicron variant has risen to seven, and hospital admissions for people with confirmed or suspected Omicron rose to 85.

Experts warned that indoor mixing is the “biggest risk factor” for the spread of the variant, and that large gatherings risked creating “multiple spreading events”.

They said the ramping up of the booster programme would not help in terms of hospitals admissions at this stage, as many would be those who are infected now, before immunity has had time to build.

Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews and member of Sage, said it was clear that Plan B measures alone would not be enough to stop the spiralling numbers of cases and cautioned that waiting until after Christmas to act is “probably too late”.

A Cobra meeting was expected to be held at some point over the weekend with the devolved nations.