Johnson cannot rule out Xmas lockdown!

Care workers – on the front line – Unison want more measures in place for protection from the virus

THE TORY government ‘can’t make hard, fast guarantees’ that there will not be a Christmas lockdown, Deputy PM Dominic Raab said yesterday.

The cabinet met yesterday afternoon to discuss further measures as cases of Omicron soar.

The three options on the table are:

1. Urging the public to limit social mixing, without legal enforcement

2. Mandating curbs on household mixing, the return of social distancing and forcing pubs and restaurants to close at 20:00 GMT

3. A return to full lockdown.

Dr Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London, said yesterday it is impossible to predict how high Covid infections will get, but cited modelling that suggested daily positive cases could reach as high two million – a prediction she says is ‘plausible’ given the rapid spread we’re seeing.

She warned: ‘With limits on testing we’re unlikely to get an early indication of how high infections could go until hospital admissions are rising, by which time it would be far too late to act.’

Dr Gurdasani said that even if the Omicron variant does turn out to cause less severe illness, the ‘sheer number’ of infections has the potential to overwhelm hospitals.

She urged people to ‘hunker down’ over Christmas and called on the government to impose further Covid restrictions.

Labour leader Keir Starmer confirmed that his party ‘is ready to support further restrictions to slow the spread of Omicron if the government deems them necessary.’ The Labour leader said the government has been hinting at further restrictions but is more tied up with ‘party matters’ than public health.

He said: ‘It’s for the Prime Minister to come up with a plan to support for schools and businesses … get on with the job, bring forward that plan … we will support it if it’s the right plan in the public interest.’

The last shopping weekend before Christmas is normally a busy one but retail analysts say UK shoppers chose to avoid high streets and city centres amid fears over Omicron.

The number of people on high streets fell by 5.9% on Sunday but rose 4.8% at retail parks week-on-week, retail analysis firm Springboard said.

Meanwhile, the union Unison said bosses must review their Covid-19 risk assessments and put all reasonable measures in place to reduce the risk of exposure to those who cannot work from home, given the highly infectious nature of the Omicron variant.

The latest data from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has revealed that 645,000 workers reported suffering from a work-related illness caused or made worse by the effects of the pandemic, including high levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

Unison members are key workers on the front line, in hospitals, care homes and schools, but also refuse workers and members working in police custody suites or as carers in people’s homes.

Ventilation, air cleaning and access to the most appropriate protective equipment for the level of risk are all important measures in workplaces such as schools and hospitals, where social distancing may not be possible.