Dry January? Ministers examine whether to bring back rule of six

Dry January? Officials examine whether to bring back the rule of six for social gatherings after new year celebrations if fresh curbs are required in potential new blow to pubs at quietest time of year

  • Measure limits social gatherings to six people or two households 
  • Being examined by officials but not presented yet to ministers
  • Questions over whether PM will feel the need to bring in any new restrictions

Officials are examining whether to bring back the rule of six for social gatherings if new Covid curbs are needed after new year celebrations.

The measure, which was last in force in the spring, limits social gatherings indoors to six people or two household groups in order to limit the chance of transmitting Coronavirus.

But a return to such a restriction would place a heavy burden on pubs and restaurants at what is already traditionally the quietest time of the year, as people recover from the excesses of the festive period. 

Pubs and restaurants in England have already been hit by Christmas restrictions that prompted a wave of cancellations, and a new round of restriction could push many over the edge. 

The measure is being assessed by officials and has not been presented to ministers, the Telegraph reported, amid questions over whether Boris Johnson will feel the need to bring in any new restrictions.

He last night refused to tighten England’s lockdown before the new year off the back of positive data on hospital admissions and infection rates from the Omicron variant. 

Those numbers would have to take a sudden surge upwards for new action to be taken at all. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice today acknowledged that infection rates from the new Omicron variant were rising but said there was evidence it was not resulting in the same level of hospital admissions as previous waves. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice today acknowledged that infection rates from the new Omicron variant were rising but said there was evidence it was not resulting in the same level of hospital admissions as previous waves.

Virus? What virus? Revellers in Leeds enjoyed a night out yesterday

There is early encouragement from what we know in South Africa that you have fewer hospitalisations and that the number of days that they stay in hospital if they do go into hospital is also lower than in previous variants,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

‘At the moment we don’t think that the evidence supports any more interventions beyond what we have done.

‘But obviously we have got to keep it under very close review, because if it is the case that we started to see a big increase in hospitalisations then we would need to act further.’

Mr Johnson, who is at his Chequers country retreat, left it to Health Secretary Sajid Javid to face the cameras to announce the decision, although he later tweeted advice to Brits to exercise caution at the new year.

His decision last night not to follow the lead of the other home nations in bringing in harsher Covid restrictions ahead of the new year has also been welcomed by Tory MPs who have been at odds with the PM. 

He faced a rebellion by more than 100 before Christmas as he brought in new mask-wearing rules and Covid checks for nightspots.

Tory Mark Francois told GB News: ‘It’s remarkable how a backbench rebellion of 101 MPs focuses minds, isn’t it? But let’s not be churlish, this is the right decision, well done Prime Minister.

‘We are asking people to use their common sense – we’re being conservatives. We’re trusting in the good sense of the British people.’

Bassetlaw MP Brendan Clarke-Smith added: ‘It’s about trusting people to make their own decisions about their lives and to use their common sense.’

The British Chambers of Commerce president Baroness McGregor-Smith welcomed the announcement there will be no new Covid restrictions in England before the new year, but said the hospitality sector needed further support.

‘I am delighted to see that we are protecting New Year’s Eve but it just won’t go far enough,’ she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

‘We have called for looking at focused support on furlough and also looking to increase grants as well, also making sure that the emergency rate of VAT continues beyond March as does the business rates relief again to continue beyond March.

‘We don’t have flexibility on any loan repayments yet and for many businesses which took out loans, which they did do last year – many, many have got more debt than they ever had before – they are now in a position where they are going to have to pay that back, and I think the Treasury needs to look very carefully at the repayment schemes for many loans across the UK.’

Andy Wood, chief executive of Adnams brewery, said there had been a 50% drop in visitors to pubs and hotels after the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, urged people to be cautious about socialising.

‘More than half of Christmas has been lost. This is a sector that has the economic equivalent of long Covid. There is going to need to be support for the sector through the darks months of January, February and March.’

Source: Read Full Article