The UK government is facing renewed criticism of its “stop-start” approach to COVID-19 restrictions, as the country’s health secretary refused to rule out adopting further measures before Christmas.
Senior Conservative MP and former minister Tobias Ellwood said on Dec. 19 that the government’s “off the bus, on the bus” approach to tackling COVID-19 has done damage to the economy and burdened the National Health Service (NHS).
“That approach needs to stop because it’s damaging our economy, wearing people out, and our NHS isn’t able to cope,” Ellwood told Times Radio.
He said there was “plenty of scope” for another variant to turn up “possibly during the summer.”
“We need to be planning for that now. Instead, it’s a stop-start. It’s this, you know, locking down and killing the economy, then trying to revive it again. You can’t continue to keep moving in that way. So what we need to do is better plan for the future.”
The UK government had removed most of the country’s COVID-19 curbs in July, but it has tightened pandemic-related restrictions again following the detection of the Omicron variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
Under the government’s “Plan B” measures, people have been asked to work from home if they can, vaccine passports have been introduced for large-scale events and nightclubs, and a mask mandate has been enforced for most indoor settings, including cinemas and theatres.
On Dec. 19, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there are “no guarantees” that further measures won’t be adopted in the run-up to Christmas.
Talking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Javid said the Omicron variant is “spreading rapidly” and now accounts for about 80 percent of infections in London and about 60 percent of infections in England.
According to the most recent figures from the UK Health Security Agency, deaths of people with the variant in England have risen to 12, and hospital admissions of patients with confirmed or suspected Omicron variant cases have increased to 104.
Asked about ruling out new restrictions before Christmas, Javid said there’s “a lot of uncertainty” and that it’s “time to be more cautious.”
“There are no guarantees in this pandemic, I don’t think,” he said. “At this point, we just have to keep everything under review.”
The government’s refusal to rule out further COVID-19 measures has added to the uncertainty and rattled UK businesses, which are already complaining about the Plan B measures.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, which represents restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality firms, said further restrictions would be devastating for the industry.
“It’s better to trade, even a little bit, than be closed down altogether,” Nicholls told the BBC. “There are a lot of costs closing down sites and then reopening them. Having a fourth lockdown would be the final nail in the coffin for some businesses.
PA Media contributed to this report.