Boris Johnson is desperately trying to manage splits in his Cabinet and among top scientists today after holding off imposing more Covid curbs before Christmas.
The PM declared there will be no more restrictions yet despite massive pressure from scientists and medics who warn the NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed by the Omicron strain.
The intervention last night came after a long and ‘fractious’ Cabinet meeting, where ministers including Rishi Sunak demanded more ‘evidence’ on the Omicron variant before signing off on further measures.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg is understood to have urged the government to ‘trust people’ to respond to the alarm about the rapid spread of the new strain, rather than bringing back draconian laws.
Mr Johnson is said to have cautioned that explanation will not wash if the NHS is at serious risk of being underwhelmed, but eventually went with the majority view among his team.
The premier told reporters afterwards that the decision was ‘finely balanced’ – with speculation that the government could still need to act with a ‘circuit breaker’ before New Year if new crucial data due tomorrow show the situation deteriorating quickly. However, it now looks too late to bring in any official restrictions before December 25.
Mr Sunak is finally expected to unveil support for businesses being hammered by the ‘lockdown by stealth’ later today, after bars and restaurants were left deserted following increasingly grim warnings from Chris Whitty and other experts.
Senior Tories hailed the decision to avoid immediate restrictions this morning, while some scientists accused Mr Johnson of ‘caving in’ to sceptics after ‘losing authority’ following a series of scandals.
However, the PM was boosted by Sir Jeremy Farrar, a former member of SAGE, backing the position of waiting for another day to see updated figures on hospitalisations. He told the Today programme that ‘each of us can do things today that will make the chance of further restrictions lighter’.
After government borrowing for November came in higher than predicted this morning, Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay highlighted the ‘economic consequences’ of more restrictions.
Mr Barclay told BBC Breakfast: ‘The Prime Minister has given a commitment that where there are additional regulations bought forward that Parliament would be recalled in order that Members of Parliament can scrutinise and debate those issues, but we are not at that stage.
‘We are looking closely at the data and we need to recognise there are economic consequences to further restrictions.’
Source: The Dailymail