Professor Chris Whitty warns UK’s Covid hospital admissions will rise rapidly before Christmas
What could Plan B entail?
No10 is expected to announce a suite of new measures to stem the spread of Omicron today.
The curbs that could be introduced are:
— Compulsory face masks extended to pubs and restaurants
— Vaccine passports for large events
— Advice to work from home where possible
— Isolation of all contacts of Covid cases
These are the measures that are already in place:
— Compulsory masks in shops and on public transport
— Pre-flight departure tests for all UK arrivals
— PCR test on or before Day 2 for vaccinated arrivals
— 10-day isolation for unvaccinated arrivals
— Day 2 and Day 8 PCR tests for unvaccinated arrivals
— Return of Red List and hotel quarantine for arrivals from countries on list
— Booster vaccine campaign expanded to all adults, dosing gap shortened to three months
Professor Chris Whitty warned today that Britain’s Covid hospitalisations are set to rise rapidly before Christmas because of the incoming Omicron wave.
SAGE today warned ministers that Omicron hospital admissions could breach 1,000 a day in England by the end of the year without tougher restrictions to stem the spread of the super-mutant Covid variant.
In a move that could bounce No10 into activating its winter ‘Plan B’, the expert panel said it is ‘highly likely’ Omicron will make up the majority of British infections within ‘a few weeks’ and put ‘unsustainable pressure’ on the NHS.
Leaked minutes from SAGE’s emergency meeting today, seen by the BBC, showed that the group also expect the highly-evolved strain to trigger several thousand admissions per day at a peak in January if it is allowed to spread unchecked.
The ‘Covid O’ Cabinet committee met for crunch talks this afternoon and Boris Johnson is expected to sign off on plans for a blanket order to work from home where possible, more mask-wearing, vaccine passports and stricter isolation rules for close contacts of infected people at a 6pm press conference.
The crisis comes at the same time as the Prime Minister faces increasing hostility from his own party in light of claims Downing Street staff held a lockdown-breaking Christmas party in No10 last year while millions were unable to see their loved ones, with a number of senior backbenchers slamming it as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘indefensible’.
There is growing pressure on the Government to tighten restrictions after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 568 today, with the highly evolved variant now in every country in the UK and almost every region of England.
Experts warn thousands of cases are flying under the radar because not all samples are analysed for variants and Omicron is estimated to be doubling every two or three days — much faster than when Delta exploded on the scene.
There are currently 757 daily hospital admissions across the UK and 680 in England. SAGE members had previously suggested that 1,200 daily admissions would be the trigger point for more restrictions with Delta.
Not a single one of the UK’s confirmed Omicron cases has been hospitalised with the virus but it takes several weeks to fall seriously unwell and there are early indications in South Africa that it might cause milder illness than past variants.
But even if the new strain is milder, experts warn that if it can infect significantly more people than Delta, it will cause bigger surges in hospital admissions than its predecessor.
In the leaked SAGE minutes, seen by the BBC, the group said: ‘With the speed of growth seen, decision makers will need to consider response measures urgently to reduce transmission if the aim is to reduce the likelihood of unsustainable pressure on the NHS.’
The scientists insisted that tightening restrictions will give the UK precious time to delay the wave and get more boosters into arms. They said they expect jabs to hold up against severe disease and death.
Earlier, Professor Neil Ferguson, a key SAGE member whose modelling prompted the initial lockdown last spring, today admitted that another full-blown shutdown could be on the cards to tackle Omicron.
He said light measures like WFH ‘wouldn’t stop it but it could slow it down’ and extend the doubling time to five or six days. ‘That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it actually is potentially a lot in terms of allowing us to characterise this virus better and boost population immunity,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
It came as Covid cases jumped 6 per cent today and breached 50,000 for the fourth time in a week. Government figures show there were 51,342 positive tests in the last 24 hours, up 6.1 per cent on last Wednesday’s 48,374.
Deaths have fallen week-on-week however, with the number of lives lost to Covid falling by 5.8 per cent during the same time-frame to 161. Hospitalisations rose by 3.3 per cent, with the latest figures showing there were 729 admissions as of December 4, the most recent day UK-wide figures are available for.
There are currently 757 daily hospital admissions across the UK and 680 in England (England shown above). SAGE members had previously suggested that 1,200 daily admissions would be the trigger point for more restrictions with Delta
There is growing pressure on the Government to tighten restrictions after the total number of British Omicron cases rose to 568 today, with the highly evolved variant now in every country in the UK and almost every region of England
Boris Johnson (pictured leaving 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons today) is on the verge of bowing to mounting alarm about the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed by bringing in tougher restrictions, likely to include a blanket order to work from home where possible, more mask-wearing and Covid passports
BBC Breakfast today decided to ’empty chair’ Sajid Javid for pulling out of national interviews in the wake of the Downing Street party video
In the bombshell video a No 10 aide asks a question about ‘a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night’, to which Allegra Stratton laughed and replied: ‘I went home.’ Downing Stree
Attorney General Suella Braverman was seen going into the building this morning, although it is not clear whether her visit is related. Mr Javid also entered, ignoring questions about why he ducked interviews.
The leaked video of No10 staff rehearsing for a press conference that detonated the Christmas party row
In the bombshell video a No 10 aide asks a question about ‘a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night’, to which Allegra Stratton laughed and replied: ‘I went home.’ Downing Stree
Downing Street’s had hoped that the row over the alleged lockdown-busting Christmas party a year ago was fading away.
But the situation escalated dramatically last night when ITV News was leaked footage from a mock press conference.
It shows the PM’s aides putting his then-press secretary Allegra Stratton through her paces. She had been preparing to start hosting televised briefings for journalists weeks later – although that idea was embarrassingly shelved.
And damagingly one of the questions thrown at her during the session on December 22 referenced the ‘party’ four days earlier.
Ed Oldfield (PM’s special adviser): ‘I’ve just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?’
Allegra Stratton: ‘I went home (laughs)… hold on, hold on, erm, err…’
Ed Oldfield: ‘Would the Prime Minister condone having a Christmas party?’
Allegra Stratton: ‘(laughs) What’s the answer?’
Ed Oldfield: ‘I don’t know!’
Downing Street Employee (unidentified): ‘It wasn’t a party… it was cheese and wine.’
Allegra Stratton: ‘Is cheese and wine alright? It was a business meeting.’
Downing Street Employee: ‘No! … was joking!’
Allegra Stratton: ‘(laughs) This is recorded. This fictional party was a business meeting… (laughs) and it was not socially distanced. Umm one more and then we’ll… one more. Anybody have any questions today?’
Conservative MPs have been turning on the premier, with demands for him to provide an ‘explanation’ and even warnings that misleading parliament on what happened will be a ‘resigning matter’. Baroness Warsi, a former Cabinet minister turned critic, said ‘every minister, parliamentarian and staffer’ at the alleged party ‘must resign now’.
One government source told MailOnline that the situation was an ‘absolute joke’. ‘A friend said to me ”you look like a bunch of c***s”. It was hard to argue.’
BBC Breakfast took the extraordinary step of empty-chairing Mr Javid this morning as vaccines minister Maggie Throup also pulled out of her planned round of regional television interviews. On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, host Susanna Reid swiped that the government was ‘gaslighting’ by pretending there is not any need to answer questions.
The footage of Ms Stratton was filmed on December 22 last year – four days after the alleged ‘boozy’ party and when London was under strict Tier 3 coronavirus curbs. The revelation follows a week of tortured denials from No 10 that there was a ‘party’ – even though dozens of staff allegedly exchanged ‘secret Santa’ gifts and drank past midnight at an event said to have included party games.
It came as new plans for Britons to work from home and for offices to be closed are being drawn up by the Government to curb a surge in Omicron variant case numbers over the festive period – but Tory MPs admitted the ‘indefensible’ and ‘catastrophic’ video could mean the public will resist or ignore more restrictions because of a lack of ‘moral authority’ in No 10.
Some backbenchers have even suggested that Boris Johnson’s could be forced to resign unless he ‘holds his hands up’ because of the video, which calls into question his insistence that all the rules had been followed at the time.
One said of Mr Johnson’s leadership: ‘I’m tired of it. He has to go. Clean sweep. It’s unsustainable’. Another said: ‘It confirms my suspicion of the sheer arrogance and hypocrisy of those orchestrating lockdown measures.’
Former minister Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford, demanded an apology. ‘I am fuming! My constituents have every right to be angry,’ she told Kent Online.
‘Their memories of lost loved ones are traumatised knowing that they died alone, first and last Christmases passed by, and many spent what is usually a special day by themselves.
‘I am not even going to begin to justify or defend a party in Downing Street. We all deserve a fulsome explanation and apology and swiftly.’ Conservative Sir Roger Gale said today that the situation bore ‘all the hallmarks of another ‘Barnard Castle’ moment’ – a reference to the Prime Minister’s former aide driving 260 miles during strict lockdown conditions last year.
He said: ‘This is like something out of The Thick Of It. If you wrote it, people wouldn’t believe it. Boris Johnson has always been his own man and done his own thing in his own way. I think he has a certain amount of explaining to do. This is no laughing matter. I want PM to come to the dispatch box and say there either was a party or wasn’t. There has to be an explanation by lunchtime today’.
Even Ant and Dec got in on the act last night, mocking Boris Johnson over the Downing Street Christmas party on I’m a Celebrity 2021 and saying: ‘Evening Prime Minister… for now.’ Police are yet to launch a criminal investigation – but will be reviewing the footage before a decision is taken. It is understood that a senior officer looking at the matter will now consider the contents of the video in the coming days.
‘We are aware of footage obtained by ITV News relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at a Government building in December 2020’, a Met spokesman said. ‘It is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the Covid-19 regulations, however the footage will form part of our considerations’.
In total, there are 46,000 Covid cases on average each day in the UK and data from the Covid Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) suggests the new strain is already behind around one in 66 of them, or 1.4 per cent
Infections of the highly evolved variant are doubling every two or three days. The above graph shows how the number of daily cases of Omicron could breach the 100,000 barrier before New Year’s Day, if that pace continues
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme said Mr Javid was scheduled to feature this morning, but cancelled after the footage emerged.
Professor Neil Ferguson warns a full lockdown might be needed to stop Omicron overwhelming NHS
‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson today admitted that another nationwide shutdown could be on the cards to tackle Omicron as he warned the super variant will be dominant before Christmas.
The Government scientist, whose modelling bounced No10 into the original lockdown last spring, said the return of stay-at-home orders ‘certainly might be possible’ if the mutant strain threatens to overwhelm the NHS.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘There is a rationale, just epidemiologically, to try and slow this down, to buy us more time principally to get boosters into people’s arms because we do think people who are boosted will have the best level of protection possible, but also to buy us more time to really better characterise the threat.’
Asked outright if a lockdown could be reimposed, he said: ‘Clearly if the consensus is it’s highly likely that the NHS is overwhelmed then it will be for the Government to decide what to do about that but it’s a difficult situation to be in of course. It certainly might be possible at the current time.’
It is unclear how the British public would react to social restrictions over Christmas after fresh allegations surfaced this week that Boris Johnson held a rule-breaking lockdown party in Downing Street last December, when millions of Britons were unable to visit loved ones.
Presenter Nick Robinson said: ‘We were expecting to speak to the Health Secretary Sajid Javid this morning but we were told just a few minutes after that video emerged that no minister would be available to speak on the programme today.’ Mr Javid was also due on outlets such as BBC1, Sky News and Times Radio.
The damning clip, which was leaked to ITV News, shows Ms Stratton and aides joking about cheese and wine and suggesting the ‘fictional’ event was ‘not socially distanced’. Miss Stratton, who is still on the No 10 payroll earning £125,000 a year, was practising for planned TV media briefings, which were later axed.
At the time of the alleged event, on December 18, Christmas parties were outlawed – on pain of £10,000 fines – and many families were even barred from visiting dying loved ones. Mixing indoors with people from other households was banned in the capital.
No 10 was still insisting last night that there had been ‘no Christmas party’ and that coronavirus rules were followed at all times. But ministers were aghast at the crass video, with one privately describing it as ‘appalling’.
Insiders fear the release of the toxic footage could unleash a wave of public anger, similar to the fury over the trip to Barnard Castle by Dominic Cummings at the height of the first lockdown.
A Downing Street insider acknowledged the video was a ‘disaster’, adding: ‘No 10 aides laugh at their party as thousands cry for their dead.’
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted ‘we do follow the rules on Covid’ as she was questioned about the alleged party at a Chatham House event.
She said: ‘As to alleged events in Number 10, I don’t know the detail of what happened.
‘I know that the Prime Minister’s spokesman answered those questions in detail yesterday and I am sure there will be further discussion of that issue.’
Asked why citizens should trust an administration that did not follow the rules, she added: ‘We do follow the rules on Covid.’
But ‘I’m not aware of the precise circumstances and I know the Prime Minister’s spokesman has addressed that issue’.
One Tory MP told MailOnline that most colleagues were ‘waiting to see what the PM says at PMQs’.
‘He needs to come out today and just be straightforward and say what happened. Not answering won’t work. Maybe they are planning to fire some people.’
Pfizer’s results are based on a laboratory study using the blood of 20 people, who were either double-jabbed three weeks earlier (left) or triple-jabbed one month earlier with its vaccine (right). The graph shows antibody levels against different strains of the virus: Wuhan (green), Beta (blue), Delta (orange) and Omicron (red). The results showed the third dose triggered a 25-fold jump in antibody levels against Omicron from 6 to 154. Pfizer said this equates to a ‘high efficacy’ based on data on other variants. The level of neutralising antibodies against Omicron after three jabs was 154, compared to 155 against the Wuhan strain after two jabs. But the figure was 60 per cent lower than levels seen for three doses against Delta (339)
Researchers at the African Health Research Institute (AHRI) found the Pfizer vaccine triggers forty times fewer antibodies capable of fighting the Omicron variant compared to an older version of the virus. The graph shows that antibody levels — scientifically known as geometric mean titer (GMT) FRNT50 — among 12 people jumped to an average of 1,321 when they were exposed to an older strain of the virus (D614G). But when scientists tested their blood against Omicron, antibody levels dropped to an average of 32, marking a 41.4-fold decrease. Six of the volunteers were double-jabbed with Pfizer (orange), while the other half were double-jabbed with Pfizer and had previously tested positive for Covid. People previously infected with Covid had the most protection
The backbencher pointed out that future inquiries will uncover details anyway. ‘If you have done something wrong, go to parliament and explain it. You have much more chance of getting away with it.
Pfizer’s booster vaccine CAN beat Omicron
Pfizer’s Covid booster vaccine triggers a 25-fold spike in antibody levels against Omicron, the drug firm claimed today but it admitted two doses may not be enough to thwart the mutant strain.
The vaccine manufacturer argued three injections provide a ‘more robust’ defence against the variant, which has sown chaos since it was first identified in South Africa last month.
A third jab triggers a similar antibody response against Omicron as two doses against previous strains of Covid, according to preliminary laboratory tests. It also ‘strongly increases’ T cell levels, offering the immune system an extra boost to protect against severe disease.
But Pfizer also insisted that two doses should still be enough to slash rates of hospitalisations and deaths, in the event of fresh waves triggered by the super-mutant strain.
And millions of doses of a new version of its vaccine tailored to the mutant strain — which has already been developed — can be ready by March if the current crop of jabs do not provide enough protection against Omicron. Pfizer’s boss said they will know within weeks if it is needed and all of its production can be switched to the new vaccine.
It comes as two separate studies released today show that vaccines appear to work better than expected against Omicron, which is quickly spreading in Britain and has left No10 on the brink of resorting to its ‘Plan B’ to save the NHS from being overwhelmed this winter.
A South African research institute found people fully-vaccinated with Pfizer make up to 40-times fewer antibodies against Omicron compared to other variants. But the lead author of the research, the first of four laboratory-based studies released in the last 24 hours, insisted the results are ‘better than expected’.
Another study by Swedish virologists also found there is a drop in the body’s ability to neutralise Omicron after jabs. But the Karolinska Institute researchers insisted the decline was not seen in everyone, with one of the paper authors saying the fall was ‘lower than feared’.
Meanwhile, a World Health Organization official insisted the vaccines should still work against Omicron, admitting that the strain appears to be milder than its rivals, such as Beta and Delta.
Dr Michael Ryan, the agency’s emergencies director, argued the current jabs ‘have proved effective against all the variants so far’ in preventing severe disease. He added that ‘there’s no reason to expect’ vaccines would suddenly fail against Omicron.
‘The cover-up is the thing that gets you. So you have got to be brutally honest.’
‘They won’t be the only people to have an illegal party at that time, but you don’t have an illegal party in No10 do you?’
The MP also suggested that Mr Cummings and his allies might have been involved in leaking the video. ‘It has to be someone senior. Who had them and kept them this long? It does feel like a Cummings operation,’ they said.
Becky Kummer, of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: ‘There are simply no words to describe how upsetting and shameful it is to hear Boris Johnson’s team laughing about breaking the rules they had made, while others followed them and could only say goodbye to their loved ones through a screen. It’s the behaviour of people who think they’re above us.’
The clip, obtained by ITV news, shows Ms Stratton, then the PM’s press secretary, and Ed Oldfield, No10’s head of digital, rehearsing a question and answer session in the No9 briefing room.
In it Oldfield asks a question about ‘a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night’, to which Ms Stratton laughs and replies: ‘I went home.’
When he asks if the Prime Minister would condone such a party, Ms Stratton appears unsure how to respond and asks the room: ‘What’s the answer?’
A third voice can be heard saying ‘it wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine’, before Ms Stratton added: ‘It was a business meeting … this fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.’
The footage was released after Boris Johnson had earlier refused to answer questions about the gathering, with questions raised over whether it breached social distancing rules in place at the time.
The Metropolitan Police has said it was aware of the footage and is considering an investigation into the alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations in government buildings last December.
Asked about it on a visit to a London prison yesterday, Mr Johnson would only say that all the rules had been followed at the time. Other ministers have refused to confirm if a party happened or not.
Sir Keir Starmer responded to the footage of Downing St aides joking about the party by saying that Boris Johnson needed to ‘come clean and apologise’.
The Labour leader said: ‘People across the country followed the rules even when that meant being separated from their families, locked down and – tragically for many – unable to say goodbye to their loved ones.
‘They had a right to expect that the government was doing the same.
‘To lie and to laugh about those lies is shameful. The Prime Minister now needs to come clean, and apologise.
‘It cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else.’
In response to the footage, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times.’
The leaked footage was shot in the media room at 9 Downing Street, which was refurbished at a cost of £2.6 million in preparation for the televised broadcasts before the plan was ditched.
No10 announced last week that it plans to ramp up the booster programme to 500,000 jabs per day and offer a third dose to all 53million British adults by the end of January to shield against the incoming wave. But the scheme already appears to be stalling with less than 330,000 delivered across Britain yesterday and just 380,000 administered each day on average. At the current rate, all eligible adults will not be boosted until February 10
Parties were banned under Covid restrictions at the time. Mr Johnson has not confirmed or denied reports that members of his Downing Street team staged a party on December 18 last year when London was under Tier 3 restrictions but he has insisted that no rules were broken.
‘A nest of singing birds’ and a string of green gaffes: Allegra Stratton, Boris’ short-lived press secretary
Allegra Stratton has frequently been the story since she was brought in by Boris Johnson – with a string of gaffes and a description of No10 as ‘a nest of singing birds’.
The former Guardian and BBC journalist became the Prime Minister’s press secretary in October last year, when the idea was to hold daily White House-style televised press conferences.
But the plans were dropped six months later and she was given a consolation role as the PM’s spokesman at the COP environmental summit.
Since then she has regularly raised eyebrows, urging people to join the Green Party and advising against rinsing plates before putting them in the dishwasher.
She was even forced to admit she drove a diesel car because the infrastructure was not in place to switch to an electric vehicle – even though her role was to promote the Government’s green agenda.
In February, Miss Stratton was forced to deny reports of strains with the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie, saying: ‘That’s completely mental. Crazy. I love Carrie and would do anything for her. When we all go out for a drink she is just the best fun imaginable. We are all a nest of singing birds.’
She worked as political correspondent for the Guardian until 2012 when she became political editor of BBC2’s Newsnight.
She was Rishi Sunak’s director of strategic communications from April to October 2020. Her joining the PM’s team caused a bust-up in Downing Street that led to the departure of communications director Lee Cain.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab reignited the party row yesterday after he said it would have been a clear breach of Covid rules at the time if Mr Johnson’s staff held a party in Number 10 in the run-up to last Christmas.
The PM yesterday insisted no rules were broken, after the Times reported that staff wore festive jumpers and were asked to bring ‘secret Santa’ gifts.
They were reported to have brought alcohol and food to the event said to have been attended by dozens of colleagues
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman has insisted ‘there was not a party’ but the Prime Minister declined to characterise the event during a visit to a prison in London on Tuesday.
‘What I can tell you is that all the guidelines were observed, continue to be observed,’ he told reporters.
Asked if he investigated personally, Mr Johnson said: ‘I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.’
The spokesman later added that ‘our position has not changed’ following Mr Johnson’s comments.
Last night, several families who lost loved ones over the Christmas period last year vented their fury at the latest developments in shambolic party saga, calling it a ‘betrayal’ of families who followed the rules.
Louisa Backway, whose father died of prostrate cancer after being unable to spend his last Christmas with his children and grandchildren, said she and her family are ‘furious’ after watching the video.
‘To know now that I sacrificed the last time that my dad could see his grandchildren, the last time that I could see my dad when he was well and himself, I can’t get that time back,’ she told ITV News.
Referring to Mr Johsnson, Louisa added: ‘I probably can’t really say what I think about him right now, because I’m just, I’m just so angry, so angry. And I’m sure many people are.’
Trisha Greenhalgh, a Professor in Primary Care, took to social media to recall her heartbreak as her mother died on Christmas without any family by her side.
Addressing her tweet to Allegra Stratton, the Oxford lecturer wrote: ‘On the day you partied, my mother called me, breathless and feverish. I didn’t visit. On the day you joked, she was admitted to hospital. I didn’t visit.
‘As you celebrated Christmas, she died without family by her side. I promise you, it wasn’t funny.’
Ministers are yet to explain how the alleged bash complied with the rules in place at the time, despite coming under pressure since an initial report in the Daily Mirror.
The newspaper said two events took place in No 10 in the run-up to the festive season last year, including Mr Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November’s lockdown.
While Mr Johnson has stuck by his explanation that rules were obeyed, several Cabinet colleagues have swerved questions about the party.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid faced questions on the issue as he faced his new Labour shadow, Wes Streeting, the MP for Ilford North, in the Commons yesterday.
‘Residents in Ilford are this week being prosecuted for holding an indoor gathering of two or more people on December 18, 2020, and rightly so,’ Mr Streeting said.
‘Isn’t it time that the Government comes clean about the event in Downing Street on that same day, admit they broken the rules and apologise? Or does the Secretary of State believe, as the PM appears to, that it is one for rule and another for everyone else?’
Mr Javid replied only to say: ‘In terms of rules, of course they should apply to everyone, regardless of who they are.’
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse had earlier insisted he had been ‘reassured that all of the regulations were complied with’ as he was grilled over the Downing Street Christmas party row.
Mr Malthouse clashed with BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter Mishal Husain during a fiery interview as she asked him to make sense of the Government’s position.
The Tory frontbencher said he is ‘not an investigator’ but he had ‘asked the question was all the regulations compiled with’ and he had been ‘reassured they were’.
It came as Downing Street said it intends to hold a Christmas party for staff this year.
What were the rules on December 18 last year?
With just days to go until Christmas 2020, Covid restrictions were ramped up as the situation on infections and hospitalisations ‘deteriorated’.
London, and Downing St at its centre, were moved into a Tier 3 set of restrictions to fight the ‘exponentially increasing’ Covid case rate.
The following rules were put into force on December 17 for London following a review of tiers:
– No mixing of households indoors, or most outdoor places, apart from support bubbles;
– A maximum of six people in some outdoor public spaces (e.g. parks, public gardens);
– Events should not take place;
– People should avoid travelling outside their area, other than where necessary such as for work or education. Reduce the number of journeys where possible;
– Hospitality is closed, with the exception of sales by takeaway, drive-through or delivery;
– Retail, indoor leisure and personal care are allowed to remain open.
There was to be the saving grace of a five-day relaxation period over Christmas, but this was scrapped just days later after the situation continued to deteriorate.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: ‘We haven’t confirmed any dates at the moment. I think there is an intention to have a Christmas party this year.’
Boris Johnson has insisted that Christmas parties should go ahead this month despite the return of some Covid restrictions to stop the spread of the Omicron variant.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab reignited the party row after he said it would have been a clear breach of Covid rules at the time if Mr Johnson’s staff held a party in Number 10 in the run-up to last Christmas.
Mr Raab, who is also the Justice Secretary, said he did not know the truth of the reports based on ‘unsubstantiated claims all on the basis of anonymous sources’, but if they turned out to be correct, then there would have been a breach.
He said that ‘if there was a formal party held, of course that is something that is clearly contrary to the guidance’.
Ms Husain asked Mr Malthouse this morning if a hypothetical gathering at the BBC last Christmas involving ‘several dozen of us, drinks, nibbles, party games’ would have been within the rules.
He replied: ‘Well, you are asking me a hypothetical question. I would have said to you you have to abide by the regulations.’
Mr Malthouse said he asked Number 10 ahead of his broadcast round of interviews this morning ‘whether regulations were complied with’ and ‘I was reassured that all of the regulations were complied with’.
Last week The Daily Mirror reported that two events took place in Number 10 last year in the run-up to the festive season.
The first was said to have been a leaving do for a senior aide held in November, when the country was in a second national lockdown, apparently attended by Mr Johnson who gave a speech.
The second was reportedly a staff party in December where, according to multiple reports, party games were played, food and drink were served, and the revelries went on past midnight.
The rules in place in the capital at the time explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it was ‘a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted’.