Covid: Scientists to brief PM as he weighs need for new restrictions

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  • Coronavirus pandemic

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The prime minister is due to be briefed on the latest Covid data as he weighs whether to impose additional measures in England before the new year.

After two days without published figures, Boris Johnson will hear the impact on the NHS of record infections.

The PM has so far resisted new restrictions, but the other UK nations imposed tighter rules from Boxing Day.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have tightened up for a second day, with new restrictions for pubs and restaurants.

Downing Street said no decisions have been taken yet on whether extra measures to control the Omicron variant will be introduced in England, but it previously said it would not hesitate to act after Christmas if necessary.

  • The Covid rules coming in after Christmas
  • Omicron: Good news, bad news and what it all means

Ministers welcomed early findings last week that people infected with the fast-spreading Omicron variant were less likely to be admitted to hospital, although the BBC understands a range of factors will be examined when looking at the case for restrictions.

Infections surged by 48.2% in the seven days before Christmas, hitting a record 122,186 confirmed cases on Friday, the last day figures were published.

But the number of people admitted to hospital and deaths following a positive test have risen much more slowly so far.

The briefing by government scientists on Monday is a one of a regular series of updates given to the prime minister and he has not yet called a cabinet meeting or announced a recall of Parliament.

MPs have been promised a vote if it is decided fresh legal measures are needed, after Mr Johnson suffered the largest rebellion since he became PM over the introduction of Covid passes earlier this month.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have gone ahead with reintroducing legal restrictions on gatherings, large events and the hospitality industry, with the latter two nations spreading the changes over two days.

The most recent change will see Northern Ireland pubs, cafes and restaurants have to provide table service only, while no more than six people from different households are allowed to sit together.

In Scotland:

  • Pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and gyms have to ensure a one-metre distance between groups of people
  • Groups of people meeting are now be limited to three households
  • Table service is required in hospitality venues offering alcohol

Rules introduced a day earlier limiting the attendance of public events meant that Boxing Day football matches in Scotland were played before a maximum of 500 fans, while Hogmanay street parties have already been cancelled.

Nightclubs in Northern Ireland and Wales closed on Boxing Day while Wales also introduced restrictions on the number of people meeting in pubs, cinemas and restaurants, brought back two-metre social distancing in offices and public places, and capped attendance at events.

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