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England faces new Covid rules in January if hospital cases soar – as ‘rule of six considered’

Cabinet minister George Eustice warned ‘we would have to act further’ in England if hospitalisations soar – after scientists modelled a full-blown return to ‘step two’ rules on pubs

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Covid restrictions ‘under close review’ says George Eustice

England will face new Covid restrictions in January if hospital cases soar, a Cabinet minister warned today.

Boris Johnsonlast night ruled out new laws on social contact before December 31 – unlike Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where stringent measures have been brought in.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said last night “we will see whether we need to take any further measures” in January.

But George Eustice went further today, saying “we would have to act further” if hospitalisations soar.

The Environment Secretary added cases are “obviously” under “very close review”.

At least 315,000 new Covid infections were diagnosed over the three-day Christmas weekend.







A minister warned “we would have to act further” if hospitalisations soar (file photo)
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England hit a record 113,628 new cases on Christmas Day, with another 103,558 confirmed on Boxing Day.

Mr Eustice told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The key question is how many of those infections will translate into hospitalisations.

“There is early encouragement from what we know in South Africa, that you have fewer hospitalisations, and the number of days they stay in hospital if they do go in is significantly lower than in previous variants.

“So at the moment we don’t think the evidence supports any more interventions beyond what we’ve done.

“But obviously we’ve got to keep it under very close review.

“Because if it is the case that we start to see a big increase in hospitalisations, then we would have to act further.

“And that’s why we need to keep it under close review.”







Boris Johnson has been looking at case numbers from his Chequers bolthole
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There are mixed reports about what any restrictions could look like in England.

Scientific advisors to the government have modelled a return to either full-blown ‘step two’ restrictions, or a mixed model with 50% of step two rules.

Full-fat Step 2 would ban indoor gatherings, ban pubs and restaurants from serving indoors, and slap the “rule of six” on outdoor gatherings.

However, none of the four UK nations have gone this far and it appears unlikely England would do so either.

Nightclubs have closed in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but pubs can still serve indoors, with limits.

Wales and Northern Ireland have both imposed the ‘rule of six’ – but only on indoor gatherings in public venues like pubs, not on all gatherings.

In Wales, other indoor gatherings like house parties can have up to 30 people.

And Scotland has not brought back the rule of six, instead asking people to limit gatherings to no more than three households at a time.

According to the Telegraph, a return to the ‘rule of six’ is one option that has been looked at by Whitehall officials for England.

But the newspaper was not specific about where this might apply and whether it would be indoors, outdoors or both.

Meanwhile reports stressed the work has not yet been formally presented to ministers, so it may not be adopted as policy.

Boris Johnson remained at his country bolthole, Chequers, last night and chaired a virtual meeting yesterday to study data, with advice from top medics.

But afterwards, his podium in the new £2.6million press room at No10 stood empty.







Empty tables in a coffee shop yesterday in Cardiff
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Mr Javid instead revealed the outcome of the talks, leaving England an outlier after Scotland and Wales announced restrictions.

Greg Mulholland, of the Campaign for Pubs, said: “It’s great news for publicans that New year.’s Eve parties can go ahead.”

But medics warned the NHS could become overwhelmed due to rising cases and staff absences, and Labour sounded a note of caution.

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: “After a difficult 2021, people will be relieved to see no new restrictions ahead of the new year.

“With infection rates so high, the government needs to come forward with a plan to enable schools and the NHS to run effectively through this latest wave.

“The Government should publish, as a matter of urgency, the very latest data on hospitalisations and NHS staff absence rates, as well as up to date advice from SAGE, so that the public can be reassured that they are genuinely following the data and scientific advice and that Boris Johnson is not simply capitulating to his own opponents in the Tory Party.”

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