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Hospitalisations will be the “key” metric that the government uses to determine whether to bring in more stringent restrictions in response to Omicron, a senior Cabinet minister has said.
Stephen Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, on Tuesday morning said ministers wanted more time in the coming days to see how quickly-surging numbers of Covid cases translate into hospital admissions, before making a decision on potentially imposing more rules.
“We are looking closely at the data,” Barclay told LBC.
“There is much we still don’t know about the severity of Omicron and how that leads to hospital admissions. We are looking particularly at the London data, as there is particularly high prevalence of Omicron in London.”
Boris Johnson yesterday decided against bringing in more Covid restrictions before Christmas following a three-hour Cabinet meeting, despite warnings from scientists and doctors that the NHS could soon be overwhelmed.
The Prime Minister said the government would keep Covid data “under constant review” on an “hour-by-hour basis”, and warned that he might be forced to implement stricter rules in the coming days, creating the prospect of new restrictions before the end of the year.
There was thought to be a Cabinet split over whether to bring in new rules, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, and Barclay himself among those ministers who are keen to see a fuller data picture before going ahead with more restrictions.
A senior government source familiar with the marathon discussion told PoliticsHome: “Everyone was trying to pipe in with an opinion”.
Barclay this morning explained that there is a time lag of a few weeks between someone catching the highly-transmissable Omicron variant and being hospitalised with it, and that the government wanted to see to see more data on how many people are falling into the latter category.
“There is two to three weeks between someone catching Omicron and then appearing in that hospital admissions data,” he said, “and of course there has been significant behaviour change during the period between those who are now presenting at hospital and when they caught Omicron because we brought in the Plan B measures and rolled out the boosters.”
He added: “We don’t think the case is there for further restrictions at this stage.
“As the Prime MInister set out last night, we reserve the possibility that further action will be needed, and we will continue to look very closely at that data.”
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