BORIS Johnson is preparing for crunch talks over a new raft of lockdown measures later today – with his top advisors set to examine five key factors.
In what will be a sigh of relief for thousands, Downing Street looks unlikely to recall Parliament to rubberstamp legally-binding lockdown restrictions such as the loathed Rule of Six.
But the introduction of country-wide "guidance" – which cannot be enforced by cops – is still on the cards, depending on five points that Mr Johnson, Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance will have to consider.
A string of hugely positive studies have already shown that Omicron IS milder than other strains, with the first official UK report revealing the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70 per cent lower than with Delta.
Covid booster jabs protect against Omicron and offer the best chance to get through the pandemic, health officials have repeatedly said.
The Sun's Jabs Army campaign is helping get the vital extra vaccines in Brits' arms to ward off the need for any new restrictions.
But the PM has stressed that he is monitoring Omicron stats "hour by hour" and could put more measures in place if key research deems it necessary.
As Brits brace for a massive update on cases later today, we break down the five key factors Mr Johnson will have to consider before introducing any new guidance for the public.
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What are England's hospitalisation rates?
Hospitalisation rates will be one of the points scoured by Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance in their meeting today.
Latest hospital figures in London – dubbed ground zero for Omicron cases – showed numbers with Covid rocketed by over 90 per cent in a week, hitting 386 on December 22.
According to reports, if the number hits 400 a day then the country is in big trouble, although health sources say they do not recognise this figure.
Downing Street is keen to avoid overwhelming the NHS, as the latest 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.
Meanwhile, 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.
And almost one-third of all trusts recorded a longest wait of between 23 and 24 hours.
Some 23 trusts reported the longest wait for an assessment was 1,439 mins, just one minute short of 24 hours.
Omicron is milder than other variants
But hopes are rising that Mr Johnson will resist a circuit-break lockdown after research showed Omicron is milder than other strains.
Brits infected with the variant are around 50 per cent less likely to end up in hospital.
Professor Neil Ferguson – dubbed Prof Lockdown – told journalists that his team's findings suggest the new strain is "moderately less severe".
The research by Imperial College included 56,000 cases of Omicron and 269,000 cases of Delta and was taken from PCR tests from 1-14 December.
In other Covid-19 news:
- Boris Johnson will hold crunch talks with Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance on potential lockdown measures TODAY;
- Kids could be forced to work from home as gloomy school bosses "plan for the worst" due to Covid-related staff shortages;
- A huge update on coronavirus figures is expected this afternoon with infections being released at 4pm, for the first time since Christmas Eve;
- Weddings, funerals and births will not be restricted under Covid measures.
The research team led by Prof Ferguson found those testing positive with Omicron are 15 to 20 percent less likely to need hospital care.
And they are 40 to 45 per cent less likely to end up spending a night or more as an inpatient.
Half the level of severity means cases would have to rise twice as high to reach the same level of hospital admissions, compared with Delta.
In the meantime, real-world studies from South Africa – where Omicron was first detected – show people who catch the strain are 80 per cent less likely to be hospitalised than those infected with Delta.
How is Britain's jab drive going?
The UK's mammoth booster programme has been triumphant so far, with vaccination centres jabbing throughout Christmas.
More than 32 million — over 60 per cent of adults in the UK — have had their booster.
On December 23, a total of 32,605 Brits received a vaccine, as data shows jabs are the best way to tackle the spread of the Omicron variant.
Economic impact of another lockdown
The economic impact of another shotgun lockdown could devastate Britain's already hard-hit hospitality industry.
Desperate publicans yesterday wrote to the PM and Chancellor Rishi Sunak urging against new lockdown measures.
The pair were warned a return to the rule of six, table service only or the closure of indoor hospitality would leave many on the brink of closure.
Christmas takings are already down around 40 per cent on pre-pandemic levels — and a bad New Year’s Eve could push many over the edge, pubs warned.
The letter, organised by the Campaign for Pubs and signed by publicans across the country, said: “We are on the brink — in many cases literally on the verge of being unable to carry on, of walking away and of going under.”
It partly blames the Government’s “confused messaging”.
UK Hospitality head Kate Nicholls said: “We urge the PM to stick to current plans.
"There is still much we don’t know about Omicron but we do know the economic and social hit lockdowns and restrictions have so caution is right.”
Will England follow Wales and Scotland?
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have begun a Boxing Day crackdown in a bid to stop rising Covid cases.
The rule of six returned in Wales, with only half a dozen people allowed to meet in pubs, cinemas and restaurants.
Two metre social distancing is also required in public premises and offices, and nightclubs closed their doors ahead of New Year's Eve.
Meanwhile in Scotland, people are urged to keep one metre distance from one another.
Crowds are limited to 100 people standing indoors, 200 people sitting indoors and 500 people outdoors from Boxing Day.
Only three households can socialise at indoor and outdoor venues – including bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and gyms – with one metre social distancing enforced.
Table service is also making a comeback in places where alcohol is served.
And in Northern Ireland, nightclubs have shut, indoor standing events are banned and only three separate households are permitted to get together – with the Rule of Six returning to pubs, bars and restaurants.
The Prime Minister is unlikely to follow suit and put in place freedom-limiting restrictions himself, it is understood.
Although, concerns are heightened as England has previously followed after the devolved nations in introducing lockdown measures earlier in the pandemic.
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