Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed today that no decision on further restrictions would be taken this week, paving the way for pubs and restaurants to go ahead with New Year’s Eve plans.
However, bars and clubs are expecting quieter business than in usual times due to the impact of Covid.
More than 320,000 people officially tested positive for Covid over the Christmas weekend, according to the latest data, while the number of in-person Boxing Day shoppers was down by almost half on 2019.
Mr Javid said “people should remain cautious” and urged those marking the start of 2022 to consider testing themselves beforehand and to celebrate outside, with the Omicron variant growing so fast that it accounts for 90 per cent of all new Covid-19 cases.
The decision not to impose restrictions beyond the Plan B measures already in place in England comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson was briefed on the impact Christmas mixing had on coronavirus infections and hospital admissions.
Earlier in the day, Conservative backbencher and treasurer of the 1922 committee of Tory MPs Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown urged the Prime Minister to be “very cautious before introducing further measures” as he pushed for people to be able to “make their own decisions”. It followed a major backbench rebellion against the Government over the introduction of Plan B measures earlier this month.
Mr Javid told Sky News on Monday: “We look at the data on a daily basis – that hasn’t changed over the Christmas period.
“But there will be no further measures before the new year. Of course, people should remain cautious as we approach New Year’s celebrations.
“Take a lateral flow test if that makes sense, celebrate outside if you can, have some ventilation if you can.
“Please remain cautious and when we get into the New Year, of course, we will see then whether we do need to take any further measures, but nothing more until then, at least.”
Curbs on hospitality and large events have been brought in for those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the Scottish Government ordering nightclubs to be shuttered from Monday while hospitality businesses will need to return to offering only table service if serving alcohol.
England is currently under the UK Government’s Plan B rulebook, with guidance to work from home, mask wearing in shops and other public settings, and Covid passes to gain entry to large events.
Mr Javid said: “It’s for each country that makes up the United Kingdom to decide how it wants to go forward.
“So for example in England, we decided back in July that we would open up in the summer.
“I think we look back now and that has been the right decision.”
Hospital admissions 'differing to January crisis'
Covid admissions to hospital are rising but “not precipitately so”, according to a group representing NHS trusts in England.
A total of 8,474 people were in hospital in England with Covid-19 as of 8am on December 27 - up 27 per cent from a week earlier and is the highest number since March 5.
During the second wave of coronavirus, the number peaked at 34,336 on January 18.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: “Trust leaders are watching their current hospital admissions data very closely.
“Talking to chief executives this morning, the sense is that admissions are rising but not precipitately so.
“What’s particularly interesting is how many chief executives are talking about the number of asymptomatic patients being admitted to hospital for other reasons and then testing positive for Covid.
“Trusts are not, at the moment, reporting large numbers of patients with Covid type respiratory problems needing critical care or massively increased use of oxygen, both of which we saw in last January’s Delta variant peak.
“We should therefore be cautious about over interpreting current Covid admission data.
“As the Covid community infection rate rises rapidly due to Omicron, we will get significantly more cases of incidental Covid in hospital.”
Mr Hopson said staff absences, along with the accelerated booster campaign and urgent care that could not be put off, meant there was pressure “being felt right across GPs, social care, ambulances and community and mental health services as well as hospitals”.
“It is therefore still far too early to say that we no longer need to worry about Omicron and hospitalisations.
“Trusts are still preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” he added.
A further 98,515 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the UK as of 9am on Monday, the Government said. All were reported in England.
On Christmas Day 113,628 cases were recorded in England with a further 108,893 recorded on Boxing Day – 103,558 in England and 5,335 in Wales.
The Government said a further 143 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.
The 143 deaths reported on December 27 is the sum of the deaths which would have been reported in England between December 25 and 27.
Three deaths were also reported in Wales on Boxing Day and were not included in Monday’s total.
The data published on December 27 is incomplete due to holidays and does not include any data for Scotland and Northern Ireland.