There will be no further Covid restrictions in England before the new year, Sajid Javid has said.
But the health secretary said people should “remain cautious” and celebrate outside on New Year’s Eve if possible.
“When we get into the new year, of course we will see then whether we do need to take any further measures, but nothing more until then at least,” he said.
Meanwhile, England reported a record number of cases on Christmas Day.
The figures showed there were 113,628 new infections reported in England on 25 December, 103,558 on 26 December and 98,515 on 27 December.
Only partial Covid data has been published over the Christmas period.
Dr Sarah Pitt, a virologist at the University of Brighton, told the BBC the cases data was “likely to be an underestimate” for several reasons, including people being less inclined to come forward for a test on Christmas Day and data processing delays over the festive season.
Scotland also reported a record number cases over the Christmas weekend, according to provisional data. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the expected steep rise in cases “is now materialising”.
Northern Ireland has not published any cases data since Christmas Eve, while Wales recorded another 5,335 cases on 26 December.
The decision not to introduce new measures in England comes hours after the prime minister was briefed by England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said many people would be relieved to see no new restrictions, but urged the government to release the data that informed the decision, “so that the public can be reassured that… Boris Johnson is not simply capitulating to his own opponents in the Tory Party.”
Early findings last week suggested people infected with the fast-spreading Omicron variant were less likely to be admitted to hospital – although a range of factors is likely to be examined when looking at the case for restrictions.
Data emerging in England points to a very difficult month ahead for the NHS, but not a completely overwhelming one.
Last week estimates were published suggesting Omicron was causing milder illness.
But it was unclear what that would translate to in the real world – if infections rose high enough there was still a threat the NHS would not cope.
London, which was the first area to see an Omicron wave, gives us an indication of what to expect.
The first half of December saw cases detected double week on week.
But the growth in hospital admissions – taking into account the lag between initial infection and becoming seriously ill – has been much lower, at about two-thirds.
And those that are admitted appear to be spending less time in hospital.
What’s more, the surge in infections looks like it started levelling off before Christmas.
If this is right and the trends hold and are repeated elsewhere, it would suggest hospital numbers will peak at under half of what was seen last winter – very much best-case scenario territory.
That, though, is a lot of ifs. But it looks like it has been enough to convince ministers more restrictions cannot be justified for now.
Mr Javid said 90% of cases across England were now the Omicron variant.
Latest figures also showed there were 8,474 people with Covid currently in hospital in England – the highest since March, but well below last winter’s peak of more than 34,000.
Not all the patients in hospital will be being treated for Covid – about three in 10, according to latest data, have Covid but are in hospital for something else.
Meanwhile, the UK has massively ramped up its booster programme in response to Omicron, which was first identified in South Africa just one month ago.
A record 968,665 booster jabs and third doses were reported in one day last week. More than 12,000 vaccinations were given in England on Day – including 955 first doses – and the NHS said a further 1.5 million vaccination slots were available to book in in the coming days.
Omicron: What we know so far
- This variant is very contagious – it spreads faster than others and can infect people even if they are fully vaccinated
- Vaccines and boosters are still essential – they do a great job at protecting against severe disease that could put you in hospital
- It is milder – if you catch it, the risk of needing hospital treatment is up to 70% lower than with previous variants – but that is largely because many of us have built up immunity from vaccines and past infections rather than changes to the virus
- Even if Omicron is milder, because it is more contagious a large number of people will catch it and some will still become very ill, which puts pressure on the NHS.
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