The local administrations of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have introduced new COVID-19 restrictions on Boxing Day despite new data showing the Omicron variant is much milder than previous strains.
In Wales, a maximum of six people are allowed to meet in pubs, cinemas, and restaurants, and a total of 30 people are allowed at indoor events while 50 people will be allowed at outdoor events.
Two metre social distancing is being required in public premises and offices, and nightclubs have been ordered to close.
In Scotland, large events will require one metre physical distancing and will be limited to 100 people standing indoors, 200 people sitting indoors, and 500 people outdoors.
Further restrictions will come into effect on Monday, including the closure of nightclubs.
In Northern Ireland, indoor standing events are no longer permitted and nightclubs have been shut.
The measures have been introduced despite new studies showing the Omicron variant is much less virulent than the Delta variant.
According to preliminary findings published by UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on Dec. 23, someone with Omicron is estimated to be as much as 45 percent less likely to attend the emergency department compared with the Delta variant, and as much as 70 percent less likely to be admitted to hospital.
The UKHSA findings are consistent with two studies published on Dec. 22, both of which suggest the severity of the Omicron variant is relatively mild.
Researchers from the Imperial College London estimated that Omicron patients were 20 to 25 percent less likely to need hospital care and 40 to 45 percent less likely to be hospitalised for one night or more when compared to patients with the Delta variant.
Scientists in a separate Scotland-wide study said Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospital admission compared with Delta.
On Dec. 23, Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and the lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app, also said that preliminary data based on around 2,500 probable cases reported on the ZOE app suggest that Omicron is milder than Delta.
In England, the UK government has yet to announce any further rules. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated he will not hesitate to act after Christmas if required.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid welcomed the latest data as “promising,” but he warned that Omicron cases “continue to rise at an extraordinary rate” and “hospital admissions are increasing.”
Javid said on Dec. 23 that the findings are still “early-stage analysis” and it is still “too early to determine next steps.”
He said the government will “continue to monitor the data hour by hour,” and urged the public to “stay cautious this Christmas.”
PA contributed to this report.