UK government says there are no new Covid restrictions for England in 2021


People walk on Westminster Bridge in London, UK on Sunday December 26, 2021.

Hasan Esen | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

England will not get any new Covid-19 restrictions until the end of 2021, UK Health Minister Sajid Javid said on Monday, as the government awaits more evidence on whether health services can cope with high infection rates.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to resist the new measures, which would be unpopular within his own party, despite the adoption of new rules by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Although partial figures reported by the government on Monday showed 98,515 new cases of Covid-19 in England, Javid said ministers will not take any new measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the coming days.

After data for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are added to the English figures, it is likely that the cases for Britain as a whole are only slightly lower than the December 24 peak of 122 186.

“There won’t be any further action until the New Year,” Javid told reporters, adding: “When we move into the New Year, of course then we’ll see if we need to take any further action.”

He said the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus now accounts for around 90% of cases across England and urged people to celebrate the New Year with caution.

The government’s attention is focused on the number of patients hospitalized with Omicron after initial data last week suggested the variant carried a lower risk of admission.

The latest data showed the number of patients in hospitals in England with Covid-19 was the highest since March, at 8,474, but far from peaks above 34,000 in January.

A combination of factors including the UK vaccination schedule, the lag between infections and hospitalizations, and the potentially less harmful effects of the Omicron variant have all been put forward by health experts as possible explanations for the lower numbers.

Nonetheless, Britain has reported a total of 148,003 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test, and 12.2 million positive tests during the pandemic so far.

Johnson met with his top scientific and medical advisers on Monday to discuss the latest data.

With the publicly funded UK healthcare system already stretched, any sign that the number of admissions threatens to overwhelm hospitals could lead to the reintroduction of rules limiting people’s freedom to socialize.

“We will be closely monitoring what is happening in the hospitals,” Javid said. “If in the future we have to act, of course we will not hesitate to do so.”

British hospitals have warned that staff absences due to Covid-19 could endanger patient safety. Many industries and transportation networks are also struggling with labor shortages.

However, Johnson is under pressure from his own Tory party after a series of political scandals that have undermined his authority. Many Conservative lawmakers are skeptical that the benefits of the new restrictions outweigh their economic costs.

Data released on Monday showed the number of shoppers and diners in London’s West End on December 26 – historically one of the busiest shopping days of the year – was down week by week, and barely above half of their pre-pandemic levels.

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