New Covid restrictions unlikely as ministers gear up to review Plan B in England


Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said “there’s nothing in the data” giving the Government “any concern that we need to go beyond where we are at”

New rules for England are looking unlikely

England looks set to avoid tougher Covid rules when Boris Johnson’s top team meet to review Plan B measures this week.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said today that “there’s nothing in the data” giving the Government “any concern that we need to go beyond where we are at”.

As it stands, England remains in Plan B, which includes face masks in most indoor places, guidance to work from home and NHS Covid passes for nightclubs, unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 people

MPs are due to return to the Commons on Wednesday following the Christmas recess, with the Cabinet due to meet the same day to review curbs.

With data still trickling in from the festive period, the extent to which the highly-transmissible Omicron variant will pile pressure on the NHS in the coming weeks is not yet clear.

A further 137,583 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were recorded in England and Wales as of 9am on Sunday, the Government said.

This was down on the 162,572 cases recorded in England alone on Saturday.

But despite rising hospitalisations and workforce shortages due to sickness, the Education Secretary told the BBC that ministers were not poised to bring in new restrictions.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi
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Image:

PA)

“There’s nothing in the data that gives me any concern that we need to go beyond where we are at,” he said.

“There’s some really good data from London that it looks like the infection rates are plateauing, if not yet coming down.

“But we are seeing leakage into the over-50s in terms of infections, and it’s generally the over-50s who end up with severe infection and hospitalisation.”

Meanwhile, schools are set to return on Tuesday with youngsters asked to wear face masks and a back-up plan in place for online learning if teacher absences soar.

It comes as the Prime Minister has ordered ministers to draw up contingency plans to tackle staff shortages caused by coronavirus across industries.

There are particular concerns about the NHS, with The Sunday Times reporting that United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust had declared a “critical incident” with “extreme and unprecedented” staff shortages resulting in “compromised care”.

Meanwhile in Yorkshire, the region’s ambulance service said that “the added challenge of Covid-19-related absence amongst staff… is having a significant impact on our frontline operations”.

But Mr Zahawi said the NHS was “very good at being able to move staff around”.

The Education Secretary said the NHS was used to dealing with staff being off over the winter and during “big flu viruses”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “The NHS is very good at being able to move staff around within the system. They have an infrastructure to do that. We now have 10,000 more nurses and 3,000 more doctors than we had last year working in the NHS.

“But the NHS is very good at sort of making sure that staff shortages are monitored and dealt with pretty well. They’ve done it over many years in winter when we’ve been, you know, have big flu viruses around.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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