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Cabinet ministers are skeptical of stricter Covid restrictions in England | Health policy

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Cabinet ministers remain skeptical of further Covid restrictions as Boris Johnson prepares to receive his post-Christmas briefing on the state of the latest wave before calling for further restrictions in England.

The PM has delayed any further cabinet summit on the restrictions until after his regular data briefing with England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty – who is expected to be knighted in New Year’s honors – and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

The main evidence the government will look at on Monday includes data on length of stay in hospitals, rates of transition to intensive care and new death figures.

Some government figures worry about undeclared positive cases – including those who are asymptomatic but also those who self-isolate after a lateral flow test whose results are not recorded by the NHS because they do not pass a PCR test .

If Johnson decided to go ahead with the restrictions, he would likely encounter some Cabinet skepticism. Ahead of Christmas, Johnson’s cabinet pushed back on further restrictions, with key opponents including Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

However, sources at the firm said that spirits could change if there are any compelling changes in the data. A source close to Shapps said: “Grant is pretty optimistic that we won’t have to go into a full-blown lockdown after Christmas, but he’s not dogmatic on the subject.

“Some in the cabinet are inspired by him because he has nothing to worry about and will opt for lighter or more stringent measures only on the basis of the available data.”

A separate firm source said the positive data on the severity of the Omicron variant proves they were right to hang on. Analysis by the UK Health Security Agency found that those who caught Omicron were 50 to 70% less likely to need hospital care compared to previous variants. “It was right that we didn’t rush last time given the early positive data,” they said.

A third cabinet minister said: “So far, the data has still struggled to persuade needed legal changes. “

Government sources have ruled out some of the more controversial restrictions, including school closings. The Times reported on Monday that weddings and funerals would also be exempt from any other restrictions on large gatherings.

Conservative MPs are expected to be fiercely resistant to any change. Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said the Prime Minister should “wait and see” what happens with Omicron in the coming days before making a decision on further measures.

The treasurer of the 1922 Conservative backbench committee told Times Radio: “I think unless the data is significantly different from the pre-Christmas data, the Prime Minister would do well to wait and see what will happen in the next few days, because by next week we will have a very clear idea of ​​whether this large number of infections is going to translate into hospitalization.

“But, for now, I would call for caution because of the damage done to the economy and people by locking them up unnecessarily.”

When asked if he was concerned that England was’ out of step ‘with the rest of the UK in terms of Omicron restrictions, the Cotswolds MP replied:’ I think it’s the other way around. .

“I think the principalities are out of step with England. I think they were too careful. I think they do more damage to their savings than they need to. I think they infringe on people’s freedoms more than they need – I just don’t think the evidence, unless the data released today is significantly different, is here to stay. other measures.

He said that if Johnson chose to step up the measures needed to combat Omicron, it would be “no loophole at all” to introduce them as a guide rather than written into law, adding: “I think it would be a very smart way to move forward. “

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