Brits face ‘lockdown by the backdoor’ in just days as Omicron threatens to bring UK to standstill

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MISERABLE advice to only see friends and family when absolutely necessary has left Brits fuming at a lockdown “by stealth” this Christmas.

While Boris Johnson insisted he’s not imposing legal restrictions, he rowed in behind Prof Chris Whitty’s gloomy warning to “deprioritise” social gatherings.

Pub bosses are suffering huge cancellations because of Covid advice

Ex-health minister Steve Brine said “at a stroke the Chief Medical Officer changed government policy and put this country – certainly hospitality – into effective lockdown”.

Bosses fear the harsh instruction will take a sledge-hammer to profits in the crucial festive period as people shun pubs and restaurants.

Rishi Sunak – currently away in California – is under pressure to offer urgent financial support to stop firms being forced to shut.

Tory MP Anne Marie Morris said: “If we’re effectively telling people not to visit hospitality venues this Christmas, then this needs to be accompanied by immediate sector specific financial support from the Treasury.”

Labour’s shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said: “There is an urgent need to stop businesses closing by stealth and workers paying the price.”

At last night’s sombre press conference the PM stressed: “We’re not cancelling events, we’re not closing hospitality, we’re not cancelling people’s parties or their ability to mix. What we are saying is think carefully before you go.”

But chief medical officer Prof Whitty told people to “prioritise social interactions that really matter to them” to stop the rip of Omicron.

The PM also said that he was scaling back his Christmas plans to make them “modest”.

Labour’s Kevin Brennan said: “The government is trying to sing two different tunes at the same time – and the result is a cacophony of mixed messaging”

Tory MP Steve Baker said that while Mr Johnson isn’t closing pubs “formally” the grim warnings are seeing people steer clear.

Hospitality chiefs said the advice and bleak warnings of “staggering” case rates have haemorrhaged bookings.

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame which runs hundreds of pubs and hotels, said they had been thrown into a “zombie world”.

He told Times Radio: “Christmas is key every year. Of course, we missed it last year. It is the golden period.

“The acute problem is that if you miss Christmas, and we’re in the zombie world where we’ve been desperately trying to hang on to stuff and want to hang on to stuff, then what could be very profitable could quickly run into a significant loss.”

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Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, president of the British Chambers of Commerce, warned: “The need for the chief medical officer to advise the public to ”de-prioritise social contacts” at tonight’s press conference will almost certainly have an enormous impact for businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector.”

Theatre director Sir Nicholas Hytner said venues were in “crisis mode”, with shows closing as actors and other staff contracted coronavirus while bookings have “fallen off a cliff”.

The former artistic director of the National Theatre told BBC Newsnight: “We now surely don’t want to get into a situation where the Government’s investment last year is wasted because the sectors that it has supported collapse in the new year.

“We need to see short term finance, we need to see loans, we need to see VAT looked at again, we need to see business rates looked at again.”

Renowned chef Tom Kerridge called for a return of the drop of VAT to 5 per cent for the hospitality industry, adding: “Undoubtedly there will be many places that close their doors for Christmas and don’t reopen.”

A HM Treasury Spokesperson said: “We’re taking the action set out in our Winter Plan and are acting early to help control the virus’s spread – while avoiding unduly damaging economic and social restrictions.

“Our £400bn covid support package will continue to help businesses into spring next year and we will continue to respond proportionately to the changing path of the virus, as we have done since the start of the pandemic.”