Dr Susan Hopkins, of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), told MPs there would need to be ‘some level of restrictions in place for the next four to eight weeks’ if modelling is correct
Covid restrictions could be needed for up to eight weeks if modelling on the impact of the Omicron variant is correct, a top medic has said.
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said there would need to be “some level of restrictions in place for the next four to eight weeks” if estimates by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) were accurate.
Scientists at LSHTM said the new strain could cause between 25,000 to 75,000 deaths in England over the next five months after examining experimental data.
Even if booster jabs are found to be effective against Omicron, they projected a wave of infection which could lead to a peak of more than 2,000 daily hospital admissions.
MPs are due to vote on Plan B restrictions in the Commons later, with Boris Johnson facing a major Tory revolt over plans for Covid passports for nightclubs and large events.
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It comes after Mr Johnson warned his Cabinet “a huge spike of Omicron was coming” and said a model claiming 200,000 people got infected with the variant yesterday was “valid”.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty also reportedly told the Cabinet that pubs, shops and restaurants could be forced to shut in January due to staff shortages caused by Omicron.
Dr Hopkins was grilled about the need for restrictions by the Commons Science and Technology Committee.
Asked by Tory Committee chair Greg Clark on the exit strategy from Covid curbs, she said: “This is our fourth time going into something like this.
“The waves last a period of time and the more the restrictions are effective, then the smaller the peak, and therefore you can reduce and return life to normal.”
She said boosting the population was likely to reduce hospitalisations – and limit the strain on the NHS.
Asked when restrictions could be lifted based on the modelling so far, she said: “So I think that if the modelling that the London School has done [is right], I would expect that there is going to be needing some level of restrictions in place for the next four to eight weeks.”
It came as Downing Street today refused again to rule out bringing in new restrictions before Christmas.
Whitehall officials have reportedly been drawing up tighter curbs for England – that could include limiting pubs and restaurants to outdoor dining.
They could even be forced to shut their doors entirely if it means people can see their families at Christmas.
The PM’s spokesman insisted Plan B measures – which stop short of restrictions on pubs – “were balanced and proportionate”.
But he refused to rule out further restrictions, calling them “speculation” and “hypothetical”, and saying only that there weren’t “plans” to bring them in.
Asked about reports furlough could be brought back if pubs have to shut, he replied: “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals – no plans.”
And he refused to rule out bringing in restrictions while MPs are on their Christmas break.
The spokesman said: “What we are saying is we want to introduce the measures as set out in Plan B, which will help reduce transmission whilst we get more boosters in arms, which is the biggest single action we can take.
“As I’ve said on a number of occasions, we need to learn more about this variant on things like severity before we decide what, if any, action is required in the future.”
He added: “Obviously we will always want to ensure Parliament will have its say, should there be any requirements to make changes.
“In extremis, as the public would expect, we have the ability in the interests of public health to make changes.”
Asked if changes could be made while MPs are on recess he replied: “It would depend on the circumstances.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.