Coronavirus latest as Ireland introduces new COVID measures; more funding is given to devolved nations; retired teachers urged to return due to Omicron absences; ministers reportedly resisting calls for more restrictions before Christmas.
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Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer has come out saying that Boris Johnson is putting party before the public with his latest statement.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is also annoyed at the lack of support measures implemented by the prime minister.
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, the body which represents NHS workers, wants the government to have appropriate measures ready to go if they are needed.
He said: “Health leaders are not calling for further restrictions as they know these can be very damaging to people’s health and wellbeing, but given the rising cases of coronavirus and the rapid spread of Omicron, they feel it is now a question of when rather than if they will be needed.
“If the Plan B measures and boosters prove not to be enough, they expect the Government to respond quickly and pre-emptively in the national interest to the range of advice and modelling it has.
“This includes recalling parliament over the Christmas break if that is needed.
“This is not just about protecting the NHS and its workforce but about protecting public health and reducing illness.”
He added: “Currently, hospitals in England are seeing over 800 admissions with coronavirus every day and around a fifth of national intensive care beds are occupied by people with the disease.
“On top of that bed occupancy generally is around 93%, November saw record levels of 999 contacts and ambulance callouts, and mental health, community and primary care services are all seeing high levels of demand.
“Also, staff sickness levels across the NHS are rising, particularly in London. This is all happening before January which tends to be the busiest month for frontline NHS services.
“The NHS is working incredibly hard to keep disruption to patient care to a minimum, and its teams will continue to prioritise essential services alongside vaccinating at record levels against coronavirus but it is likely they will need further support.
“The best thing the public can to is to continue to behave in ways that will keep themselves and others safe, including taking up the offer of a vaccine or booster if they are eligible.”
Analysis by Rhiannon Mills, royal correspondent
In any other year the Queen cancelling her annual trip to Sandringham would be completely unexpected, it has after all been the setting for the royal family’s Christmas celebrations for decades.
But these are COVID times, and nothing really seems to be a surprise anymore.
This is the second year that her majesty has decided to stay in Windsor rather than hold the annual gathering in Norfolk.
We’re told she personally made the decision after carefully considering all the current discussions around COVID.
After all we can’t forget that Christmas at Sandringham isn’t just about her family getting together, their walk to church is often watched by hundreds, if not thousands of royal watchers who turn up to see them, and the last thing the Queen would want to encourage is crowds gathering.
This year of course comes with added poignancy, it will be her first Christmas without the Duke of Edinburgh, but we are reassured that the 95-year-old will not be alone on Christmas Day although it’s not clear who exactly will join for.
Her son Prince Andrew and his family live on the Windsor Estate, while Prince Edward lives close by with his family.
We understand others, such as Prince Charles and Camilla are still finalising their plans, and the Cambridge’s usually either stay in Norfolk or with Kate’s family in Berkshire.
One thing is for certain, just as they’ve done right through the pandemic the royal family will want to set the right example, sticking by the guidelines whatever they may be by Christmas Day.
Analysis by Joe Pike, political correspondent
Only one person can come to a decision about further restrictions in England. But Boris Johnson has deferred it for now.
Depending on your persuasion, the PM is either standing up to the scientists and demanding more data, or hesitating because of the anti-lockdown elements of his cabinet and parliamentary party.
The data Mr Johnson seems most interested in is Omicron’s effect on hospitalisations. We know the variant has high transmissibility, but need confirmation on severity.
The danger of waiting, however, is that by the time the threat becomes clear, it may be too late for restrictions to have any significant impact.
Boris Johnson wants to avoid cancelling Christmas (he promised this year would be better than last) yet there is still time for further announcements before the 25th.
Commons authorities believe MPs may be recalled next Wednesday (29 December) for a possible vote on further restrictions. The government has not confirmed this.
A normal 2021 Christmas may still be possible, but a 2022 free of COVID measures looks increasingly unlikely.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has implied there will be no new COVID restrictions put in place before Christmas.
She said: “The cabinet will discuss tomorrow and I will set out in parliament if there are any additional or wider steps necessary, but I want to be clear to individuals that the advice I gave out last week is the advice that will take us through Christmas.”
She added: “My clear message to individuals is to reiterate the message I gave last week and that is, in the run up to Christmas, please reduce your contacts, stay at home as much as is feasible right now.
“For Christmas Day and Boxing Day, we’re not asking people to cancel plans but think about keeping them as small as your family circumstances allow and make sure everyone is testing before going, and following rules around hygiene and ventilation.
“Then after Christmas, for a period, limit your contacts again, so we can suppress infection as much as we possibly can, as we speed up the vaccination program.”
The Queen is set to celebrate Christmas in Windsor, Berkshire, instead of Sandringham, Norfolk.
It is the second year in a row that Her Majesty has celebrated the holiday away from Sandringham.
Family members will visit the 95-year-old monarch, but it is understood that precautions and guidelines will be followed.
Last week, it was announced that the Queen had cancelled her annual pre-Christmas lunch.
The Live music Industry Venues & Entertainment [LIVE] industry body has criticised Boris Johnson for not announcing new support for their sector in his latest statement.
CEO Greg Parmley said: “Today’s Government announcement, that they will keep data under review while telling the public to ‘be cautious’, is merely an excuse to withhold desperately needed financial support as sectors like live music and entertainment buckle under the weight of the latest COVID wave.
“In addition, there are businesses in the live music industry that are faced with huge decisions in the next 48 hours about whether to mount expensive shows for just after Christmas and New Year’s Eve, caught in a catch-22 of losing money if they pull them now or risking even more by going ahead – only to find the government closes all activity later.
“We need guidance and clarity now so that businesses can make the best decisions possible without putting at risk their tentative recovery.”
Less than 2,000 new COVID cases have been reported today in Austria, as the country reopens restaurants and hotels.
Brian McCloskey, the former director of Global Health for Public Health England says measured restrictions could be argued for.
He told Sky News: “You can produce good arguments in favour of [a full lockdown].
“I think it might be going a bit too far at present to go into a full lockdown.
“But I think there is scope to get people to be more cautious, to spend more time at home and less time socialising.”
It comes as Boris Johnson said he was not introducing any new measures or financial support – although options are being kept open.