Current evidence doesn’t support imposing further CCP virus restrictions in England, a government minister said on Tuesday.
Environment Secretary George Eustice acknowledged that infection rates from the new Omicron variant were rising but said there was evidence it was not resulting in the same level of hospital admissions as previous waves.
“There is early encouragement from what we know in South Africa that you have fewer hospitalisations and that the number of days that they stay in hospital if they do go into hospital is also lower than in previous variants,” he told the BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme.
“At the moment we don’t think that the evidence supports any more interventions beyond what we have done,” the minister said, adding that the cabinet will keep it under “very close review.”
“If it is the case that we started to see a big increase in hospitalisations then we would need to act further,” he added.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed on Monday that no more restrictions will be imposed, at least before the New Year.
The decision was welcomed by the hospitality industry in England as a “lifeline” to the heavily battered sector while their counterparts in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have been put under stringent restriction since Sunday or Monday.
William Lees-Jones, a hospitality boss who previously wrote on Twitter that First Ministers for Scotland and Wales, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford, are “barred for life” from his pub chain JW Lees Brewery, wrote on Tuesday that he was “looking forward to pubs being open on New Year’s Eve in England without any further restrictions.”
Dr. Sarah Pitt, a lecturer specialising in virology at the University of Brighton, said she doesn’t think it makes sense to have different CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus restrictions across the four nations.
“If people can’t go to a New Year’s Eve party in Wales or Scotland, they’ll just tip over the borders into England, won’t they, thus potentially taking the virus and spreading it … and then taking it back home,” Pitt told LBC radio, adding it makes sense to “have some measures to try and stop the spread of the virus at this point.”
But Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said that the increase of COVID-19 case number appears to have slowed down than it did a week ago.
“Cases are increasing in older people and of course, people over 60. Of course, this is the group that is more likely to go into hospital and hospitalisations are also rising, but so far nothing obvious such as people on intensive care units.” he told BBC Breakfast, adding, “the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your family is to have the booster,” which made “a big difference.”
The professor also said COVID-19 will eventually have to be treated as the common cold and people who test positive should be allowed to “go about their normal lives,” adding, “Maybe not quite just yet.”
“So personally, I think it would be unlikely that we are going to do anything like that whilst we’re still coping with Omicron, but once we’re past Easter, perhaps, then maybe we should start to look at scaling back, depending on, of course, what the disease is at that time,” he said.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson wrote in a string of tweets on Monday that while it’s still too early to tell how Omicron had affected older people during Christmas gatherings, hospitals are not currently “reporting large numbers of patients with severe COVID type respiratory problems needing critical care.”
He also said that many people in hospital with COVID-19 now are “incidental COVID”—people hospitalised for other reasons and then tested positive for CCP virus—and the hospitals are not currently overstretched by rising COVID-19 cases, but by “the current combination of staff absences, very busy urgent care pathway, planned care cases that can no longer be delayed & extending booster campaign.”
Asked if healthcare workers infected with the CCP virus should eventually be able to go about their normal lives, Hopson said the idea “clearly won’t apply and shouldn’t apply to people who work inside the NHS,” where vulnerable patients are treated, but is “something that we need to look at” for the wider society.
PA contributed to this report.