Yesterday night Cabinet ministers encouraged Boris Johnson last night to keep his cool and not allow tighter Covid restrictions during Christmas.
The Prime Minister yesterday warned the Cabinet that the new Omicron variant appears to be ‘more transmissible’ than previous strains and is spreading quickly across the UK.
Downing Street claimed that no ministers discussed so-called Plan B measures like working at home or vaccine passports. But one source said the ‘sobering’ briefing appeared to be designed to soften up ministers for the potential introduction of tougher curbs in the coming days.
Last night, senior Tories warned that the PM would be subject to major criticism if he tried to place new restrictions on the spread of the new variant. The new variant has not yet been able to infect any UK citizens.
The Prime Minister (pictured) yesterday warned the Cabinet that the new Omicron variant appears to be ‘more transmissible’ than previous strains and is spreading quickly across the UK
According to one Cabinet source, Johnson was urged by his superiors to stay firm and not listen to government scientists’ requests to place restrictions on Omicron before any danger has been identified.
Another backed ex-PM Theresa May, who said on Monday that Britain could not afford to respond to every new variant by ‘stopping and starting sectors of our economy’. The minister said: ‘Theresa was right… We have to learn to live with it. We cannot run the country solely in order to manage demand for the NHS.’
Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the Government had to ‘hold our nerve’ and trust in the protection of the vaccination programme.
Former Cabinet minister David Davis said: ‘As far as I can see, Omicron appears to be a very infectious but less virulent variant.’
Downing Street stated that Johnson would update the MPs next week about whether Covid restrictions should be increased. However, a Whitehall source suggested that the decision could be made as early as this week.
According to a source, ministers are still waiting on data about the extent of the virus’s spread and whether it can be bypassed vaccines. ‘It does seem to be spreading more quickly…and that is obviously worrying,’ the source said.
The PM’s official spokesman said the Government could move to Plan B ‘relatively swiftly’ if necessary, but insisted it was not currently being discussed.
Early analysis by the Government’s scientific committee Sage suggests Omicron cases are doubling every three days, with over 1,000 new infections each day.
Yesterday’s meeting of scientists was a forum for discussing ways to reduce the risk of this strain. Some suggested that the group work from home and be implemented immediately.
One Cabinet source backed ex-PM Theresa May, who said on Monday that Britain could not afford to respond to every new variant by ‘stopping and starting sectors of our economy’
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the R-rate for the variant appeared to be ‘well above two’, meaning that on average each infected person passes on the virus to at least two more.
After 101 more confirmed cases yesterday, the official number of Omicron cases is now at 437. However, the real number could be much higher because genetic sequencing can take several days in labs.
A separate analysis, using data from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that one out of 50 English cases are the Omicron variant.
Yesterday, 45,691 Covid cases and 180 deaths were reported.
Dr Jeffrey Barrett, of the Covid-19 genomics initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said Omicron would take over as the dominant variant of coronavirus ‘within a matter of weeks’.
He added: ‘The fact that so far we have seen not very many severe cases of Omicron, maybe because it is infecting these individuals with some amount of immunity… that’s good news …but I think it is too soon to assume… Omicron is more mild than Delta.’
Meanwhile Professor Andrew Hayward, of the Government’s Nervtag advisory group, told Times Radio: ‘If [Omicron] was half as severe, but you have three times as many cases, that’s still a worse situation.’