PUBS, shops and even hospitals will be swamped by Omicron staff shortages by mid-January, top medics warned ministers last night – as Tory MPs gave Boris Johnson a humiliating Commons bloody nose.
98 Conservative rebelled against the introduction of vaccine passports to clubs and stadiums in a massive show of force against further Covid restrictions.
The defeat was particularly painful for the Prime Minister as it came just minutes after he had personally begged his backbenchers to support him and wake up to the scale of the new mutant strain.
At a testy private meeting of his MPs, Mr Johnson repeatedly insisted he did not want any further lockdown measures, but warned they had to face up to Omicron reality of a “huge spike” coming.
And he promised MPs they would get a vote in an emergency Christmas Commons recall if things became “dramatically worse.”
But his pleas fell on deaf ears for almost half of his backbenchers who voted against vaccine passports yesterday – which only passed thanks to Labour votes.
Ahead of the defeat ministers and MPs were given doomsday warnings of a January of closures – even without a lockdown.
In a “bleak” update to Cabinet on Tuesday morning the PM and chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned the new variant is set to spark massive staff shortages across Britain.
They told the meeting – which was held virtually for the first time in months due to the spread of the strain – things are looking “very bad”.
The pair said that even on “the most conservative” estimates the virus is set to unleash a tidal wave of new cases and hospitalisations – and hundreds of thousands forced off work and into isolation with the bug.
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And Prof Whitty wanted NHS workers face being hospitalised themselves as Omicron peaks in January.
Last night No 10 denied suggestions that top docs had warned some ministers that the sheer number of isolating doctors and nurses could become so bad that some hospitals risk being closed.
But MPs fear No10 is waiting for MPs to go home for Christmas on Thursday before effectively plunging England back into a version of lockdown.
Ministers are considering a slew of draconian restrictions in the face of Omicron – but also alert to the fact that shops and pubs face closure anyway due to crippling staff shortages as the bug sweeps the UK.
But discussions have included a return to the rule of six, the closure of pubs and hospitality, banning households mixing indoors or at all, and a return to social distancing.
Schools could even be ordered to stay shut for all pupils apart from vulnerable children and the offspring of essential workers.
In gloomy news, Nicola Sturgeon urged Scots to limit social gatherings to just three households before Christmas.
She brought in tougher visiting rules for care homes and announced she would make it a legal duty for employers to ask staff to work from home.
The First Minister said: “if you do plan on socialising, either at home or in indoor public places, we are asking that you limit the number of households represented in your group to a maximum of three. And make sure you test before you go.”
Panicked ministers in Westminster are terrified the super-infectious Omicron will rip through Britain, forcing millions off work.
Last night already eight MPs were stricken down with the bug including Ed Davey the leader of the Lib Dems and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves.
Gloomy Health Secretary Sajid Javid has warned that Omicron infections may already have rocketed to 200,000 a day.
But a leading Covid expert rubbished the claim and suggested the true number is just a quarter of that.
Cambridge University Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter fumed: “To be honest it’s a bit naughty to give this number without having a justification behind it.
“We don’t actually know how many infections there are because we only see cases that are reported, and there’s always a delay.
“So this is based on some modelling. But it’s not based on published modelling. From what’s been made public I can’t see how you would derive this number.”
In heated Commons scenes, Tory MPs lined up to slam Mr Johnson and the slow drumbeat back into lockdown coming from the nation’s top doctors.
Steve Brine raged: “The concept of learn to live with Covid is as dead as anything I know.” And he claimed the nation’s top medic, Chris Whitty, told MPs on a call that vaccine passports had a “minimum impact on transmission”.
Former minister, Sir Desmond Swayne accused the Government of developing a “ministry of fear” and leaving the hospitality sector in the gutter as “collateral damage”.
He questioned which “Stalinist minds” had been let loose to “twist the fear lever” once again, adding: “They have abandoned in doing that any principle of social democracy, of liberal democracy, absolutely beyond anything we’ve endured in recent living memory in the history of this pandemic.”
Mark Harper, chair of the Covid Recovery Group of MPs, said ministers had “gone into panic mode”, swiping at “on-off seasonal restrictions forever”.
And that MPs were “kidding themselves” if they think this is the end of the road for more restrictions and extending vaccine passports.
Andrew Bridgen said “the most dangerous epidemic sweeping the world and sweeping our country is an epidemic of fear”.
Andrea Leadsom claimed the latest regulations were a “slippery slope which I do not want to slip”.
She said: “This time around the measures proposed are precautionary, just in case, and I cannot see where this will end.
“Covid will be with us for many years to come and it’s unthinkable that every autumn from now on we will be limiting the quality of life for all citizens just to be on the safe side.”
Dr Luke Evans worried about ministers extending powers to other viruses stressing: “What businesses, what society interactions or what infections may become in scope in future months or future years?”
Dr Liam Fox accused ministers of pushing policies with a “lack of logic”.
And top Tory Geoffrey Clifton Brown told Sky News Boris Johnson needs to up his game as he was shocked at the “major division within the party”.
He warned: “The Prime Minister has really got to think very carefully about how he is going to reset his performance, to govern with a united party.
“We all know what happens to disunited parties. It is going to involve a major change in the way that he does things.”