The government has said it will not be introducing any fresh COVID restrictions in England this side of new year – despite the record rise in reported cases over the weekend.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said people should “remain cautious” when taking part in New Year’s celebrations – and take a lateral flow test before attending events.
Mr Javid did not rule out the possibility of further measures being taken in January, adding that the government “will see” whether the data suggests they are needed.
However, while the government says it is not clamping down on celebrations, the latest data does cast a shadow.
England reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases on Christmas Day – 113,628 – amid a rush to get tested over the festive period.
It’s also been revealed that there were 103,558 on Boxing Day, and 98,515 in the latest 24-hour period.
COVID hospitalisations in England are also at their highest level since March 2021 – 8,474 as of 8am on 27 December, according to NHS England.
That figure is up 27% from a week earlier and is the highest number since 5 March, when the country was under tough lockdown restrictions.
However, that is still some way off the peak during the second wave of the virus, which stood at 34,336 on 18 January.
Amid the figures, Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed his health secretary’s call for caution, saying: “Most importantly I urge everyone to get their first, second or booster jab without delay to protect yourselves and your loved ones.”
Mr Javid added: “Of course 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, and you know, take a lateral flow test if that makes sense.
“Celebrate outside if you can, have some ventilation indoors 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.”
Mr Javid said while “there is still a lot of uncertainty” around Omicron – which it is believed makes up “some 90% of cases” across England at present – there has been positive news in recent days that the variant is milder.
He said the need for restrictions would be kept “under review”.
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England at odds with other parts of the UK
In other parts of the UK, post-Christmas restrictions have already been introduced.
Asked why the Scottish and Welsh governments and Northern Ireland executive have analysed the same data and introduced more measures, the health secretary reiterated that it is for each government to make decisions.
Mr Javid added that Downing Street is “very, very focused on vaccinations” – but that the government “will watch carefully what is happening in the hospitals”.
The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 in England has hit its highest level since March, but remains well below the January 2021 peak.
The prime minister met with England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance on Monday to discuss the latest data.