U.K. Considers New Covid Measures as Hospitalizations Rise
(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. is considering a two-week ban on people in England gathering indoors after Christmas to slow the omicron variant’s spread, the Times reported, citing people it didn’t identify.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson hasn’t approved the plan, and advisers are waiting for more data about the new strain, the newspaper said. Johnson wants to review the impact of measures imposed over the past week, and may see no need to tighten rules further.
Johnson will also convene the high-level emergency committee known as Cobra this weekend to finalize support for the U.K.’s hospitality industry, which has seen Christmas-season bookings plummet.
Separately, the BBC said it had seen leaked minutes of a meeting of the government’s scientific advisers calling for more stringent restrictions to be brought in “very soon” in a bid to stop the National Health Service from becoming overwhelmed.
With Christmas fast approaching, the U.K.’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said when it met on Thursday that without further restrictions, hospital admissions in England could peak at 3,000 a day or more, according to the BBC. Hospitalizations are already rising sharply in London.
The advisory group also suggested that measures like banning indoor social contact and hospitality could reduce that peak substantially, compared with current restrictions. England currently requires Covid passes for some events, face masks have been made compulsory in many venues, and people are being advised to work from home where possible.
Scotland and Wales have gone slightly further, with Scotland advising people to limit social contact to three households over the Christmas period and Wales closing nightclubs from Dec. 27.
The reports of possible further restrictions come as a study from Imperial College London suggests that previous recovery from Covid-19 provides little shield against infection with the omicron variant.
Neil Ferguson, a government adviser and scientist who helped lead the study, told the BBC Saturday that having had the vaccine or a previous coronavirus infection means you’re less likely to get severe disease from omicron, with around 85% to 90% protection.
Even with most people protected against the most severe effects of the virus, there’s still a risk the NHS could come under serious strain, Ferguson said.
“We will be able to be more certain about that scenario in the next few days with increasing amounts of data coming in,” he said. “But it is a real concern we’ll be heading to something which has the risk of overwhelming the health service.”
While positive tests for the coronavirus have reached record levels, deaths in the U.K. within 28 days of a positive test have fallen to their lowest since early October.
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