‘Ludicrous’ not to bring in more Covid restrictions, hospital doctors tell Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has been warned by hospital doctors that it would be “ludicrous” not to tighten restrictions in England in response to the rise of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

The prime minister will be presented with the latest Covid data on Monday as he weighs up whether to impose fresh curbs before New Year to stem the spread of the new strain.

The trade union for hospital doctors has urged him to bring in further measures now – including limits on household mixing and table service only in pubs and restaurants – to stop the NHS being overwhelmed.

Dr Paul Donaldson, general secretary of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA), said “it would be ludicrous” not to act immediately to tackle Omicron.

“There is a high probability we are moving too late,” Dr Donaldson told The Guardian. “We will soon start to see the impact of Christmas. We are holding out hope that hospitalisations are at the lower end of projections. But given the uncertainty we face it would be ludicrous not to take additional precautions.”

Mr Johnson is expected to be briefed by chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on Monday.

If the figures are positive, Mr Johnson could be persuaded to stick with the lighter touch measures introduced under Plan B. However, if cases were beginning to put pressure on the NHS, the PM may feel the need to bring in more stringent restrictions.

A crucial issue will be whether daily hospital admissions from Covid have breached 400 in the London –thought to be an informal threshold for further action. The capital, the national hotspot for Omicron, had 386 admissions on 22 December.

New measures restricting large outdoor events and a tightening up of pubs and restaurants have already come into force in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – but No 10 has delayed a decision on any new rules for England.

If Mr Johnson decides further measures are needed, they could involve a return to curbs seen during the step 2 phase earlier this year – including a ban on indoor mixing, the “rule of six” for outdoor gatherings and outdoor service only in pubs and restaurants.

Modelling by the PM’s scientific advisory group, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), found that a two to three-week “circuit breaker” based on such measures could cut deaths by 18 per cent.

Dr Julia Paterson, chief executive of the campaign group Every Doctor, said: “If we were to listen to the experts who do the modelling on these situations, we would have acted a lot sooner.”

She urged the government to heed warnings from Sage advisers and others about a surge in hospitalisations in the weeks ahead. “There seems to be a reticence to listen to experts, which is deeply concerning – we’ve seen this so many times before,” she told Sky News on Monday.

If the PM decides the data shows that the NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed, he is likely to call a meeting of the government’s Covid-O committee, or a full cabinet, to approve emergency moves.

Mr Johnson has promised to recall parliament for a vote on any new legal curbs, giving him up to 72 hours to secure cabinet approval and force any restrictions into law ahead of New Year’s Eve.

An announcement of any new measures could be made as early as Tuesday, though The Times cites government sources saying ministers were “cautiously optimistic” that legal restrictions will be unnecessary this week. The newspaper also says weddings and funerals would be exempt from any new rules.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph reported that schools were drawing up plans to send whole year groups home for remote learning if staff shortages due to Omicron hit after the Christmas holidays.

It is understood school closures are not being considered by ministers for January. A source close to education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “The PM and Nadhim are fully committed to keeping schools open … school closures are not something being considered.”

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said headteachers were “hoping for the best but planning for the worst”.

It comes as the latest NHS figures showed that more than 10,000 patients waited 12 hours before being admitted to hospital in November, up from 2,148 the same time last year.

While a record number of NHS trusts recorded patients had waited nearly 24 hours between arriving at hospital by ambulance and being assessed. Data from NHS England for October 2021 records the longest waits between arriving at A&E and an initial assessment.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “24 hours in A&E isn’t just a TV show, it’s now what patients are forced to go through under the Tories.”

Douglas Mateo

Douglas holds a position as a content writer at Neptune Pine. His academic qualifications in journalism and home science have offered her a wide base from which to line various topics. He has a proficiency in scripting articles related to the Health industry, including new findings, disease-related, or epidemic-related news. Apart from this, Douglas writes an independent blog and assists people in living healthy life.

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