Boris Johnson says no new Covid restrictions before Christmas - but 'can't rule out' future measures

Deputy Politics Editor Anushka Asthana looks at whether delaying action could mean more pain in the end

No further Covid restrictions for England will issued before Christmas, the Prime Minister has confirmed.

Boris Johnson made the assurance on Tuesday as the UK reported more than 90,000 new cases of Covid for the fourth time in seven days and Omicron continued to spread rapidly.

He warned, however, the government is poised to "take action" after the 25 December if needed.

"In view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalisation rate or the impact of the vaccine rollout or the boosters, we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas," Mr Johnson said in a video message recorded by Downing Street released on Tuesday.

But the PM stressed that people should "exercise caution" over the Christmas period, "wear a mask indoors when required to do so, keep fresh air circulating, and take a test before you visit elderly or vulnerable relatives".

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If the "situation deteriorates", Mr Johnson said, the government will be poised to "take action".

Some experts fear tougher curbs are likely to be needed after Christmas, but have remained cautious in making concrete predictions as crucial data will emerge over the coming days.

"From the people who are advising the government on the science, I think it is pretty unanimous that the earlier we were to take action the greater the effect would be," said Professor Peter Openshaw, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Advisory Group.

"What happens after Christmas... so much depends on the information that will come through over the next few days. I very very much hope that extra measures won't be needed but I very much fear that they will."

Last year, millions in the UK spent a historic Christmas Day largely apart from loved ones due to a coronavirus variant thought to have originated in Kent.In 2020, the country had hoped to take advantage of a five-day relaxation of social restrictions in order to meet family members and friends indoors but a new Covid strain forced the Prime Minister to axe much of the planned rules hiatus.

Why is England not bringing in new restrictions, when other UK nations have already announced changes after Christmas?

Although Mr Johnson insisted that this year, no sudden rule changes will occur, he did not specify whether any new guidance will be imposed in the weeks following December 25.

Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he was pleased Christmas is "going ahead", but added: "I don’t understand why the Prime Minister hasn’t set out a plan for England beyond Christmas to give families certainty, and crucially give businesses certainty".

Mr Streeting also claimed the Prime Minister has been blocked by his own cabinet from announcing post-Christmas Covid guidance.

'We're plunged into uncertainty beyond Christmas,' the shadow health secretary warns

Hours before the Prime Minister's announcement, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there will new restrictions on the nation's public events for three weeks from Boxing Day.

The nation's traditional Hogmanay celebrations are to be cancelled and live sports will be “effectively spectator-free”.

Sporting events in Wales will also be played behind closed doors in an attempt to control Omicron. Economy minister Vaughan Gething announced the measures on Tuesday, and told ITV News that new restrictions around “hospitality and a range of other things” will be announced on Wednesday and come into force after Christmas.

In Northern Ireland, the government will decide on Wednesday what “level of asks” will be made of the public to curb the latest Covid surge.

Cases are already increasing in the nation ahead of the expected peak following the arrival of the Omicron variant. 

"We don't think there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas," Mr Johnson has said.

Across the UK, 90,629 new cases of Covid were reported over the last 24-hour reporting period. 15,363 of these infections were caused by Omicron.Businesses across the UK that have been hit by the new strain will be able to claim cash grants as part of a new support package, chancellor Rishi Sunak said on Monday.

He announced three new "generous" measures to help the arts and hospitality industries get through what should be their busiest period, as restaurants' bookings plummet and theatres are forced to close amid a sharp increase in Covid cases.