Covid: No new restrictions in England but 'we reserve possibility to take further action', says PM

ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports on what the Prime Minister has said about Covid restrictions - and the many questions that remain

No further Covid restrictions will be imposed in England for now, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said after hours of discussion with Cabinet ministers.

He warned, however, that the introduction of further rules is still on the table adding: "We will rule nothing out".

Amid the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and calls for a circuit breaker lockdown from some scientists, Mr Johnson held a Cabinet meeting on Monday afternoon.

'We will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action,' Boris Johnson warns

Announcing the outcome of the meeting, Mr Johnson said: "In view of the balance of risks and uncertainties, particularly around the infection and hospitalisation rate of Omicron - how many people does Omicron put into hospital and some other uncertainties to do with severity and booster effectiveness and so on - we agreed that we should keep the data from now on under constant review, keep following it hour by hour.

"Unfortunately I will say to people we will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public and protect public health, protect the NHS.

"We won't hesitate to take that action."

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Will there be tougher Covid restrictions before Christmas?

Asked if he could guarantee there would be no further restrictions before Christmas and what restrictions he was considering, he said ministers are "looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control and we will rule nothing out".

He said in the meantime, he is asking people to "exercise caution" by getting a booster jab, focusing on ventilation in indoor spaces, wearing masks and regularly washing hands.

What about support for business amid cancellations and staff sickness?

On support for businesses struggling with footfall in the run-up to Christmas, Mr Johnson said there were already packages of funding place, such as VAT and business rates relief and funds from local councils.

But he said: "We'll keep the economic side of this under constant review as well."

Live music and entertainment businesses are being left to “buckle under the weight of the latest Covid wave” as cancellations hammer festive bookings, bosses have said.

ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger reports on the hard hit businesses as people impose their own tougher Covid rules

Greg Parmley, chief executive of Live – the federation which represents music industry venues and entertainment including companies, artists and backstage workers, described the government position as “merely an excuse to withhold desperately needed financial support as sectors like live music and entertainment buckle under the weight of the latest Covid wave”.

Patrick Dardis, the chief executive of Young’s pub chain, said “it is crisis point” as many landlords and managers who should be working through their busiest time of the year are instead dealing with crossed-out bookings, blank diary pages or question marks over the entries that remain.

Listen to ITV News' podcast - Coronavirus: What you need to know

Following the PM's comments, London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted: "Jobs. Will. Be. Lost.

"The government must understand that failure to provide immediate support to hospitality, retail and culture is a failure of leadership for the millions who depend on them for their livelihoods. Time is running out—they must act now."

The capital has seen surging case numbers in recent days, prompting Mr Khan to declare a major incident to help authorities deal with the pressure.

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Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "Health leaders are not calling for further restrictions as they know these can be very damaging to people’s health and wellbeing, but given the rising cases of coronavirus and the rapid spread of Omicron, they feel it is now a question of when rather than if they will be needed.

"If the Plan B measures and boosters prove not to be enough, they expect the government to respond quickly and pre-emptively in the national interest to the range of advice and modelling it has.

"This includes recalling Parliament over the Christmas break if that is needed.

He added: "This is not just about protecting the NHS and its workforce but about protecting public health and reducing illness."

Hospitals in England are seeing over 800 admissions with coronavirus every day, the NHS boss said, adding "around a fifth of national intensive care beds are occupied by people with the disease."

Meanwhile Labour accused the PM of being "too weak" against opposition from his own MPs.

Wes Streeting MP, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary, said: "Boris Johnson is too weak to stand up to his own backbenchers, many of whom have no plan beyond ‘let the virus rip’.

"Today, while businesses across the country wonder if they can continue to trade, and families make frantic calls about whether they will see each other this Christmas, true to form the prime minister has put his party before the public.

"Rather than set out a clear plan for the country, he has chosen to protect himself from his own MPs by simply not saying anything. Boris Johnson is unfit to lead."

On Monday, the UK reported another 90,000 confirmed daily Covid cases - the third time in just seven days it's reached that number and higher.

Asked about the photo of a wine and cheese gathering in a garden during lockdown last year, the prime minister repeatedly said: "Those were people at work"

Confronted about the photo of Boris Johnson and Downing Street staff enjoying wine and cheese in a garden in the May lockdown last year, he said: "Those were people at work, talking about work."

Challenged about whether he normally had work meetings with wine and cheese, and the fact that there were no laptops or paper in the photo, Mr Johnson reiterated: "Those were people at work, those were meetings of people at work. This is where I live, this is where I work. Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.

"I really think it's vital we focus, if we can, on the messages we're trying to get across today."

At the time of the outdoor wine and cheese gathering, understood to be on Friday May 15, 2020, only two people from different households were allowed to meet outdoors in a socially distanced manner.