England is an outlier when it comes to restrictions across the four UK nations, as ITV News Political Reporter Shehab Khan explains
Health secretary Sajid Javid has said no further coronavirus restrictions will be introduced in England before the new year, but added that “people should remain cautious”.
Mr Javid's announcement means several New Year's Eve gatherings across the country can go ahead as planned, although he advised those marking the start of 2022 to consider testing themselves beforehand and to celebrate outside.
The decision not to impose restrictions beyond the Plan B measures already in place in England comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was briefed on the impact Christmas mixing had had on coronavirus infections and hospital admissions.
98,515 people tested positive for Covid in England over the last 24-hour reporting period. 143 people who had tested positive over the last 28 days had died.
Additionally, 1,281 people were admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in England on Christmas Day, NHS England said.
This number is up 74% week-on-week and the highest number since February 16.
Mr Javid said on Monday: “We look at the data on a daily basis – that hasn’t changed over the Christmas period.
“But there will be no further measures before the new year. Of course, people should remain cautious as we approach New Year’s celebrations.
“Take a lateral flow test if that makes sense, celebrate outside if you can, have some ventilation if you can."
Both Mr Javid and Boris Johnson said that the government will review the need for Covid restrictions again in the new year.
Mr Johnson added: "I would urge everyone to continue to act cautiously given the rising number of Omicron cases."
NHS not overwhelmed with admissions but staff absences create pressure
According to a group representing NHS trusts in England, Covid admissions to hospital are rising but “not precipitately so”.
However, health bosses said that even though there have been no reports of large numbers of patients requiring ventilators like during the last winter peak, it was “still far too early” to dismiss concerns about the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Staff absences are creating such pressure that “even relatively small numbers of extra Covid cases may bring difficult decisions on prioritisation and staff redeployment”, according to NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson.
Professor Andrew Hayward, an epidemiologist who advises the government, told BBC Radio 4: “In terms of hospitalisations, we are seeing increases, but we’re not yet seeing the sort of exponential increases in cases that we’re worrying about.
“But the key concern is, if you wait until you see those increases in hospitalisations, you may have waited too long to do much about them.”
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England remains an outlier when it comes to restrictions
New measures have already come into force in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
From Monday in Scotland, nightclubs will shut and restaurants and bars serving alcohol can only offer table service.
Indoor venues will also have to reinstate one-metre social distancing regulations.
And attendance limits were placed on large events from Sunday after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced last week that just 100 people would be able to attend a standing indoor event and 200 seated.
Outdoor events will also be restricted to 500 – a rule which has hit football games hardest.
Scottish football authorities brought forward the planned winter break, meaning just one game will be played with the reduced number of fans.
The restrictions in Scotland will be reviewed every three weeks.
In Wales, new rules came into force on Boxing Day - a maximum of six people are allowed to meet in pubs, cinemas and restaurants in Wales.
A total of 30 people will be allowed at indoor events, while 50 people will be allowed at outdoor events.
Two metre social distancing is being required in public premises and offices, and nightclubs will close.
In Northern Ireland, indoor standing events are no longer permitted and nightclubs must shut.
Socialising has been reduced to three households while up to six people can meet in pubs, bars and restaurants. Ten people are allowed if they are from the same household. Only table service is available.
A two metre social distancing rule is in place in public premises and offices.
Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting urged the English government to publish the advice and data ministers used to come to the decision not to impose fresh measures in order that the “public can be reassured that… Boris Johnson is not simply capitulating to his own opponents in the Tory Party”.
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen – one of the 100 who rebelled against the mandatory use of Covid passes during a recent Commons vote – welcomed Mr Javid’s announcement, telling GB News it was “good politics”.
“It gives businesses and the public the certainty they need, that there’ll be no new restrictions before new year,” the North West Leicestershire MP said.
Industry leaders representing pubs, nightclubs and restaurants in England praised the “positive” announcement which could put the sector “on to the road to recovery”.
Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality chief executive, said: “Hospitality businesses will be raising a new year’s toast to celebrate the Government’s pragmatic and proportionate approach.
“This will give a real lifeline for many who have struggled with the loss of trade in the run-up to Christmas and the loss of new year on top of that would have been devastating for many.”
The booster drive continues
Mr Javid used his interview to urge people to take up the offer of a booster vaccination, declaring that there were 1.5 million slots available over the next few days.
He said 75% of eligible adults had received their booster, with the Government still aiming to hit its accelerated target of having administered a jab to all those aged over 18 who want one by January 1.
Earlier on Monday, NHS figures showed that more than 12,000 people were vaccinated against coronavirus on Christmas Day, with hundreds of thousands taking up the offer of a so-called “jingle jab” between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, including more than 10,000 top-up doses.
Scores of sites were in operation over the period, with Redbridge Town Hall in Ilford, London, top of the rankings as the busiest site on Christmas Day, with more than 900 people jabbed.