Scientists have said waiting to implement further restrictions until the new year would “almost certainly be too late to have a material impact on the epidemic”.
The prime minister announced after a cabinet meeting that he would not be introducing any further Covid restrictions for now, adding: “The situation is extremely difficult and the arguments either way are very, very finely balanced.”
Yet, with Omicron infections currently doubling within 48 hours in most regions of the UK, the country may already have reached a ceiling where the rate of growth begins to fall and case numbers plateau.
Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia. believes that point could come within days, with or without interventions. “If we implement control measures now, they are unlikely to be sufficient to reverse the growth, only slow it,” he said. “But there may still be benefits in slowing the peak, in terms of flattening the curve.”
One solution that appears to be on the table is a return to the “step 2” measures introduced as part of the roadmap out of lockdown earlier this year – chiefly, people only being allowed to socialise indoors with members of their household or a support bubble, and outdoor socialising being limited to groups of six people or two households, including at pubs and restaurants.
Prof Christina Pagel, the director of UCL’s clinical operational research unit, said:
Waiting for definitive evidence that it could cause the NHS to be overwhelmed will be too late to avert the crisis. Instead, the government should follow Sage [the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] advice and return to step 2 of the roadmap immediately to prevent thousands of infections over the coming days and then monitor the situation hour by hour so that measures can be lifted as quickly as possible, hopefully even in time to enable limited household mixing over Christmas weekend.
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