Restrictions on freedom “must be an absolute last resort” and the UK must try to live “alongside” the coronavirus in 2022, the health minister said.
Sajid Javid said, however, that the record-breaking Omicron infection wave “will test the limits of finite NHS capacity even more than a typical winter” as reports suggest that a homeworking in England could be in place for most of January to help the spread to slow down the highly transferable variant.
Government figures showed an additional 189,846 laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 cases were registered in the UK on Friday, another new record for daily reported cases.
However, a leading statistician said the actual number of daily cases could be closer to half a million, with the UK entering the new year amid an “unprecedented wave” of infections.
Mr Javid wrote in the Daily Mail that England “welcomed 2022 with some of the least restrictive measures in Europe” with the UK government opposing decentralized nations to keep nightclubs open and hospitality to operate without permission further measures for the New Year celebration.
“Restrictions on our freedom must be an absolute last resort, and the British people rightly expect us to do everything in our power to avert them,” continued the Health Secretary.
“Since I took on this role six months ago, I’ve also recognized the enormous health, social, and economic costs of lockdowns.
“That’s why I was determined that we had to give ourselves the best chance to live next to the virus and avoid strict measures in the future.”
The cabinet minister said the time lag between infections and hospital admissions meant that it was “inevitable that we will still see a big surge” in Covid patients over the next month when he warned that the pandemic was as the coronavirus crisis is in her third year enters, “far from over”.
Hospital admissions in England are at their highest level since last January, with 2,370 Covid-19 patients admitted on December 29 – a 90% increase from week to week.
The Daily Telegraph reported that work from home, which is envisaged as part of England’s Plan B measures – which includes widespread use of masks in public places and mandatory Covid passes for major events – continued for another three weeks could be.
The restrictions introduced last month are expected to expire six weeks after implementation, with a three-week review expected on or near Tuesday, January 4th.
However, the newspaper said the review, which is likely scheduled when MPs return to Westminster on Wednesday, could see the work being carried out from the home run into the second half of the month.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had initially stated that he wanted to lift the measures “by early January at the latest and possibly sooner”.
Cambridge University statistician and government adviser Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said the daily Covid-19 cases in the UK could be closer to 500,000 as the testing regime is overloaded and reinfections are not counted in the UK government’s data.
“This is a huge, unprecedented wave of infections and very daunting,” said the adviser to the BBC’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
However, Sir David said the death toll had “not yet increased” and the country could be “fairly optimistic” about avoiding the pressures seen during the last winter wave.
“It looks like we’re going to have a huge wave of cases and that’s going to cause a lot of disruption, in hospitals and other services of course, but we can be pretty optimistic about the very serious results. Said Sir David.
“Things are going to get worse, but nothing like the previous waves.”
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