The Government introduced new temporary measures last week to fight the spread of the virus in response to the Omicron variant, which will be reviewed just one week before Christmas. The planned review date is reminiscent of last Christmas, when the Prime Minister waited until December 19 to announce that the planned relaxation of lockdown rules over the festive period would not be going ahead.
On November 27, 2021, in response to the growing threat of the Omicron variant, the Government announced that face coverings would be made compulsory in shops and on public transport and all contacts of suspected Omicron cases would have to self-isolate, regardless of their vaccination status.
It was also announced that all international arrivals would have to take a day-two PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
The Government is also speeding up the roll-out of booster jabs, making them available to all over-18s and halving the amount of time between second and third injections from six months to three.
While Mr Johnson insists these steps are “proportionate and responsible”, he stopped short of ordering other “Plan B” measures – which would include mask-wearing in hospitality settings and a work from home order.
The Government will formally review the measures on December 18.
Officials expect to start receiving the key data from around December 13, which will define their response.
There is likely to be a further critical review on January 8.
The data the Government will be examining on that crucial December 13 date comes from four sources.
However, speaking about the data from South Africa, Chief Scientific Adviser Chris Whitty and leading immunologist, Sir John Bell have both reportedly stressed that it is difficult to compare what happens in South Africa with the UK.
One senior source said to the Times: “They have far fewer people vaccinated.
“They have almost nobody with a booster jab and the existing dominant strain of the virus there is Beta not Delta, which we have.”
Speaking about the potential for a Christmas lockdown, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC’s Andrew Marr last week that Britain is “nowhere near” that stage yet, advising people to continue planning for Christmas as normal.
But, when asked by Tory MP Richard Drax in the House of Commons the following day whether he could guarantee there would be no further lockdowns, Mr Javid was unable to make a definite commitment.
The Omicron variant has been detected in at least 38 countries but no deaths have yet been reported, the World Health Organisation has said.
A preliminary study by researchers in South Africa, where the variant was first reported on November 24, suggests it is three times more likely to cause reinfections compared with the Delta or Beta strains.
A further 75 cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in England this week, according to the UK Health Security Agency, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 104.