PM: Christmas safe but future still uncertain

Boris Johnson has given the go-ahead for people’s Christmas plans, although he warned tougher restrictions could be implemented post-December 25.

The prime minister said “continuing uncertainty” about the severity of the omicron variant and hospital admission rates means he does not believe there is enough evidence at the moment to justify stricter measures.

But the situation remains “finely balanced” and people should “exercise caution”, Mr Johnson added.

The prime minister’s video message comes as figures from NHS England show that 1,904 people were in hospital in London with Covid-19 as of December 21, the highest number since March 2 and is up 41% from a week earlier.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Across England, 6,902 patients were in hospital with Covid-19 on December 21 – the highest number since November 10 and up 7% week-on-week.

The prime minister said: “There is no doubt that omicron continues to surge with a speed unlike anything we’ve seen before.

“The situation remains extremely difficult but I also recognise that people have been waiting to hear whether their Christmas plans are going to be affected.

“So what I can say tonight is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health.

“But in view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalisation rate or the impact of the vaccine roll-out or the boosters, we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas.

“We continue to monitor omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed.”

He went on to encourage people to “drop everything” if they have yet to get a vaccine.

Mr Johnson’s announcement comes after Chancellor Rishi Sunak offered a £1 billion support package to hospitality and leisure businesses hit by Covid restrictions amid concerns over the high transmission of omicron.

The package includes one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the affected sectors in England, which the Treasury expects will be administered by local authorities and to be available in the coming weeks.

The government also intends to use taxpayers’ cash to cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for firms with fewer than 250 employees.