Covid: PM gets Covid briefing as UK nations tighten rules

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Shoppers wearing masks outside Selfridges on Boxing Day

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The prime minister is due to be briefed on the latest Covid data as he weighs whether to impose additional measures in England before the new year.

After two days without published figures, Boris Johnson will hear the impact on the NHS of record infections.

The PM has so far resisted new restrictions but the other UK nations imposed tighter rules from Boxing Day.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have tightened up for a second day, with new restrictions for pubs and restaurants.

In both nations hospitality venues have returned to table service only – while social distancing has been reintroduced in several places including gyms, cinemas and theatres in Scotland, and offices in Northern Ireland.

Nightclubs have also been closed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Downing Street said no decisions have been taken yet on whether extra measures would be introduced in England, but it previously said it would not hesitate to act after Christmas if necessary.

The current guidance requires people in England to work from home, wear face coverings in shops and other public settings and present Covid passes to gain entry to large events.

The measures are all part of the government’s Plan B.

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Rules change around the UK

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The briefing by government scientists on Monday is one of a regular series of updates given to the prime minister, and he has not yet called a cabinet meeting or announced a recall of Parliament.

In addition, cabinet office minister Stephen Barclay will also chair one of the regular Covid meetings on staff shortages and workplace resilience.

MPs have been promised a vote if it is decided fresh legal measures are needed, after Mr Johnson suffered the largest rebellion since he became PM over the introduction of Covid passes earlier this month.

But Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, has urged the PM to be “very cautious” before applying further restrictions.

The Cotswolds MP said the latest figures published before Christmas showed the number of cases in hospital was “relatively stable”.

Speaking to Times Radio, he added: “I just don’t think the evidence, unless the data coming out today looks very different, is there for any further measures.”

Asked whether he was concerned England was “out of step” with the rest of the UK in terms of Omicron restrictions, Sir Geoffrey replied: “I think it is the other way round. I think the [other nations] are out of step with England. I think they have been overly cautious.”

Meanwhile, NHS England national medical director Professor Stephen Powis has called on people to get boosted in time for the New Year.

The NHS has said there are 1,551,187 vaccination slots still available to be booked between Monday and January.

Chart showing that the number of daily cases is rising rapidly in the UK

Ministers welcomed early findings last week that people infected with the fast-spreading Omicron variant were less likely to be admitted to hospital – although the BBC understands a range of factors will be examined when looking at the case for restrictions.

Infections surged by 48.2% in the seven days before Christmas, hitting a record 122,186 confirmed cases on Friday, the last day figures were published.

But the number of people admitted to hospital and deaths following a positive test have risen much more slowly so far.

Government statistics show 147,857 people have now died, with 137 deaths reported in the latest 24-hour period. In total, 11,891,292 people have tested positive, up 122,186 in the latest 24-hour period. Latest figures show 8,240 people in hospital. In total, 51,649,696 people have have had at least one vaccination

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