No further Covid restrictions will be put in place in England before Christmas, Boris Johnson has announced.
The decision will horrify scientists who wanted curbs on social mixing to be introduced as soon as possible to stem a tidal wave of infections with the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.
Cabinet on Monday put further controls on holding until clearer evidence emerges of the severity of illness caused by Omicron in comparison with earlier strains of the virus.
But it is understood that data on the experience of patients in UK hospitals expected from researchers at London’s Imperial College has not yet arrived at Downing Street.
In a video message, Mr Johnson said that there was not yet “enough evidence” to justify any tougher measures at this stage.
In order to provide certainty over plans for family get-togethers, he confirmed there will be no new restrictions before Christmas Day.
But he made clear that he cannot rule out further measures in the following days – leaving open the possibility of new controls on pubs and nightclubs by New Year’s Eve.
Mr Johnson said: “The situation remains extremely difficult but I also recognise that people have been waiting to hear whether their Christmas plans are going to be affected.
“So what I can say tonight is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health.
“But in view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalisation rate or the impact of the vaccine rollout or the boosters, we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas.”
The prime minister added: “We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed.
“What this means is that people can go ahead with their Christmas plans but the situation remains finely balanced and I would urge everyone to exercise caution, to keep protecting yourselves and your loved ones, especially the vulnerable.
“And remember to keep following the guidance – wear a mask indoors when required to do so, keep fresh air circulating, and take a test before you visit elderly or vulnerable relatives.
“So, if you have not done so already then please drop everything, find a walk-in or go online and make an appointment and get boosted now.”
Photo Credit: Getty