ANXIOUS families and businesses were in limbo last night after Boris Johnson warned he could slap Covid restrictions on Christmas at any moment.
The PM said he “will rule nothing out” in the fight against Omicron, following a testy virtual Cabinet meeting.Britain is in limbo after Boris Johnson warned he could slap Covid restrictions on Christmas at any moment
Christmas shoppers pack London’s Regent Street
Passengers queue at Heathrow’s Terminal 5
The Queen has called off her Christmas gathering at Sandringham for a second year but Premier League chiefs refused to cancel festive fixtures — despite Covid ravaging teams.
As Mr Johnson mulled over a cap on indoor mixing and forcing pubs to only serve outside, there was a ray of hope for celebrations as booster jabs hit the million-a-day target.
The PM said he must “reserve the possibility” of festive restrictions for a second year running. But he warned he ruled nothing out in the coming days if incoming data showed mutant Covid risked overwhelming the NHS.
That left millions in limbo over festive travel plans and desperate pub landlords begging last night to be told how much beer to order for the coming weeks.
Yesterday, Tory big beasts including Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and Kwarsi Kwarteng resisted new restrictions without clearer data on the surging Omicron variant and the threat to hospitals.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid, Levelling Up boss Michael Gove and Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries spoke in favour of tougher action.
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Sore from the resignation of his key ally Lord Frost last week over Covid measures, Mr Johnson gave his top team the chance to air their views — admitting afterwards their opinions were “finely balanced”.
One source said: “Sajid has woken up to the reality of the situation and anyone who remembers last year from the front line knows you have to act quick.”
But an ally of the Foreign Secretary told HOAR Ms Truss is “deeply uncomfortable” with any further measures coming in and wants “incontrovertible evidence that they are needed and would work”.
The source said: “The gap between the data we have now and what we need to see to make this decision is still massive.”
After the meeting, the PM admitted: “There are still some things that we need to be clearer about before we decide to go further.”
Speaking in No10, he said: “We agreed that we should keep the data from now on under constant review, keep following it, hour by hour.
“And unfortunately we will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public and to protect public health and to protect our NHS. And we won’t hesitate to take that action. We will rule nothing out.”
No10 is waiting for new data from Imperial College London, which will shed more light on the severity of Omicron, to arrive tomorrow before making a final call.
Mr Johnson is also hoping to avoid a lockdown for as long as possible after encouraging data reveals Brits are self-policing and reining in their mixing far more than expected.
But leaked SAGE minutes warned that “more stringent measures would need to be implemented very soon” and a slew of scientists hit the airwaves again yesterday to demand restrictions immediately.
The PM has promised to give MPs a vote on any new restrictions before they come into force – meaning a recall of Parliament.
But hopes are rising that the window to do so is now too narrow to ruin Christmas – but puts New Year’s Eve celebrations into serious doubt.
The restrictions discussed include a return to the Rule of Six, and similar measures during Step 2 of Lockdown lifting last April that saw boozers serving outdoors only but shops and gyms open.
However there was fury after officials admitted they have not modelled the economic impact of more Covid restrictions.
HOAR understands that Whitehall insiders looking at imposing curbs on pubs and socialising have not analysed the devastating impact it could have on the economy.
One insider said: “It has been two years since Covid first struck and they still aren’t doing the analysis.”
Tory MP and former leader Iain Duncan Smith fumed: “It looks like this is all one sided Sage advice pushing for lockdown – it is not weighed against the economic fallout it causes.”
And angry pub landlords demanded the PM tell them how much beer to order, as the PM failed to rule out forcing punters outdoors and capping indoor mixing.
Businesses are begging the PM not to tighten the rules in their crucial Christmas period for a second year running.
Desperate pubs last night warned they do not know how much beer to buy in as they are left in lockdown “limbo”.
Anxious boozers and restaurants have seen their lucrative Christmas takings fall off a cliff – and fear New Year’s Eve could be wrecked too if new restrictions are imposed.
They begged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to cough up some bailout cash to see them through the bleak Omicron winter.
Kate Nicholls, boss of UK Hospitality, said: “Businesses are dying on their feet. They are stuck in limbo.
“The continued uncertainty is hanging over businesses and people are voting with their feet. We have seen cancellations all the way through to April. We need financial support.”
Many restaurants have decided to cut their losses and close early for Christmas as punters stay away.
While others have been forced to close because of Omicron outbreaks.
Pubs and restaurants have been contacting their local MPs begging them for clarity so they know how much cash to spend buying food, beer and wine.
Tory MP and Red Wall poster girl Dehenna Davison said: “In the last two days, I’ve had pubs and restaurants contact me asking if they should place food and drinks orders.
“I’ve had emails from people asking if they should postpone their wedding for the fifth time, or if they can see their mum on Christmas.”
Speaking after the Cabinet meeting yesterday, Mr Johnson admitted this December has been a torrid time for Britain’s pubs.
He said: “No one wanted this to go this way – Omicron has exploded so fast we have seen people naturally deciding to protect themselves.
“We will keep the economic side of this under review as well.”
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is holding a series of emergency calls with business and hospitality chefs today as the clamour for a bailout grows louder.
The Treasury is expected to come up with a package for struggling pubs, clubs and other areas of hospitality if new restrictions are imposed.
They are considering handing out grants to help hammered businesses weather the Omicron storm.
But No11 is so far resisting industry pressure to extend the VAT and business rates tax cuts – which would cost billions of pounds more.
The scale of any bailout package will hinge on how severe any lockdown restrictions are, and how long they last.
The delay in restrictions delighted some Tory MPs like Esther McVey, Conservative MP for Tatton, who tweeted “Pleased the Cabinet and PM are now listening to their backbench MPs and for once pushed back on the scaremongering by the lockdown fanatics.
“It seems the 100 strong backbench rebellion last week has made a difference.”
But last night Labour said: “Boris Johnson is too weak to stand up to his own backbenchers, many of whom have no plan beyond ‘let the virus rip’.
“Today, while businesses across the country wonder if they can continue to trade, and families make frantic calls about whether they will see each other this Christmas, true to form the Prime Minister has put his party before the public.
The Queen cancels big family Christmas because of Omicron threat
THE Queen has decided not to hold a big family Christmas because of the threat from Omicron — but will not spend the day completely alone.
The 95-year-old monarch yesterday made a personal decision not to travel to Sandringham for the second year.
Her Majesty has decided not to hold a big family Christmas because of the threat from Omicron — but will not spend the day completely alone
A Palace spokesman said: ‘Her Majesty has decided to celebrate Christmas at Windsor and will not travel to Sandringham’
Palace aides had hoped she would fly to her Norfolk home to be with family for her first Christmas since husband Prince Philip’s death eight months ago.
Instead, she has chosen to stay at Windsor but royal sources say she will not be alone as members of her family will drop in on Christmas Day.
They are expected to include Princess Anne, Princes Charles, Andrew, Edward and William and Princess Eugenie.
A royal insider said: “There was no way they could safely move her whole court from Windsor to Sandringham. It’s just too much of a risk when you also think of all the extra staff you would have to bring into Sandringham and all of the extra members of the family coming and going.
“Family will be dropping by but they just haven’t sorted out who and when yet. It’s now highly unlikely she will even go to Sandringham at all this winter.”
Royal insiders say the decision to cancel Sandringham was taken by the Queen herself and the Government was then told of her plans.
It comes with millions of families across the country now reassessing their Christmas plans amid rocketing Covid infections.
A Palace spokesman said: “Her Majesty has decided to celebrate Christmas at Windsor and will not travel to Sandringham.
“The decision was a personal one after careful consideration and reflects a precautionary approach.
“There will be family visiting Windsor over the Christmas period and all appropriate guidelines will be followed.”
The rise of the Omicron variant also saw the Queen cancel a lunch with up to 50 members of her extended family at Windsor.
It was initially thought to be part of a wider plan to ensure a big Christmas at Sandringham could go ahead safely.
A senior palace source said last week: “The decision is a precautionary one as it’s felt to put too many people’s Christmas arrangements at risk if it went ahead.
“While there is regret that it’s cancelled, there is belief it’s the right thing to do for all concerned.”
Her Majesty has been on light duties since spending a night in hospital two months ago.
She had to pull out of several major engagements following medical advice. She also missed Remembrance Sunday after spraining her back.
But last week she was spotted on her feet and “back to her best” on a secret trip to London.
Premier League chiefs vow to keep playing matches over Xmas despite Covid
PREMIER League bosses have vowed to keep playing matches over Christmas — despite several teams being hit by Covid.
Clubs yesterday decided against a festive break following a number of games being called off — and they unanimously voted against postponing the season.
The Premier League said: ‘The health and well-being of all remains our priority and the league will continue to monitor and reflect public health guidance, always proceeding with caution’ – pictured Harry Kane
Liverpool had proposed moving a round of fixtures but, despite support from other clubs, the idea was rejected as too complex.
Last weekend, six of the ten Premier League matches were cancelled, with Manchester United, Leicester and Aston Villa among those to suffer outbreaks.
The Premier League said: “It was confirmed at a meeting today that, while recognising a number of clubs are experiencing Covid-19 outbreaks and challenges, it is the league’s collective intention to continue the current fixture schedule where safely possible.
“The health and well-being of all remains our priority and the league will continue to monitor and reflect public health guidance, always proceeding with caution.”
As Wolves players got their jabs, it was also revealed only 77 per cent of players had been double jabbed, while 84 per cent had at least one dose.
The Premier League added: “The league continues to work with clubs to encourage vaccination among players and club staff, as well as promoting the Government’s public-health vaccination messaging to clubs and the wider public.”
The English Football League also confirmed on Monday that its competitions, including this week’s League Cup quarter-finals, would proceed as planned.
But the Football Association scrapped FA Cup replays for the third and fourth round to help avoid a fixture pile-up.
Earlier this month the Government announced fans had to show vaccine passports to enter games.
But further restrictions are expected and may force games to be played behind closed doors.
England midfielder Jude Bellingham, 18, yesterday encouraged other players to get the jab after revealing he has had the booster.
He plays for Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, where 94 per cent of players are double jabbed.
He said: “I’ve had both jabs and the booster, just to be safe.
“I don’t want to be passing anything on to my family and be having to miss games myself.”
England manager Gareth Southgate said on vaccinations: “The only way through it is to fight the virus collectively. We all have that responsibility to think of other people as well as ourselves.”
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel had led criticism from clubs on the outbreaks, with the Blues “deeply disappointed” to have their request for a postponement at Wolves on Sunday rejected.
Brentford boss Thomas Frank had called for a firebreak pause on the league action last week, with Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp adding his support.
Rishi Sunak opposed new measures without clearer data on the Omicron variant
Liz Truss also resisted new restrictions
Health Secretary Sajid Javid spoke in favour of tougher action
Levelling Up boss Michael Gove also backed tougher measures
Outdoor drinking could return under measures to combat Covid
Wolves winger Adama Traore receives his booster jab
Raul Jimenez of Wolves receives his booster jab