U.K. Estimates Over 1.2M Infected With COVID in 7 Days, Won't Issue Holiday Restrictions

Despite a staggering number of cases attributed to COVID-19, the United Kingdom will not issue any restrictions for Christmas.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced on Thursday that the government does not have any plans to increase restrictions for the holidays. He attributed the decision to two studies conducted in the country that suggested that the Omicron variant does not carry nearly as much of a hospitalization risk as the Delta variant.

"We're clear that there's no need for any further restrictions of any type before Christmas, but of course, we will keep the situation under review," he said during a press conference.

However, the U.K. could see a surge in infections over Christmas weekend. On December 17, the Office for National Statistics estimated that around 1.2 million people tested positive for COVID-19 during that week. In the past week, COVID-19 cases have surged by almost 60 percent, prompting the government to continue urging caution when celebrating Christmas.

"Despite the caution that we are all taking, people should enjoy their Christmases with their families and their friends—of course, remain cautious," Javid said.

Oxford Shopping
The British government said it won’t introduce any new coronavirus restrictions until after Christmas, and called early studies on the severity of the Omicron variant encouraging. Above, shoppers are reflected in a window as they walk down Oxford Street, Europe's busiest shopping street, in London on December 23, 2021. AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Two studies from Imperial College London and Scottish researchers found patients with omicron were between 20 percent and 68 percent less likely to require hospital treatment than those with delta.

Data out of South Africa, where the variant was first detected, have also suggested omicron might be milder there. Scientists stress that even if the findings of these early studies hold up, any reductions in severity need to be weighed against the fact that omicron spreads much faster than delta and is more able to evade vaccines.

Britain's Conservative government this month reinstated rules requiring face masks in shops and ordered people to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test before entering nightclubs and other crowded venues in an attempt to slow omicron's spread.

Officials also urged people to get tested regularly and cut back on socializing. Many in Britain have heeded that advice, leaving entertainment and hospitality businesses reeling at what should be their busiest time of the year.

The government has offered grants and loans to support restaurants, bars, theaters and other venues, but many say it is not enough to stop them going under.

Rules set by the U.K. government apply in England. Other parts of the U.K.—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—have set slightly tighter restrictions, including the closure of nightclubs.

The government is hoping vaccine boosters will provide a bulwark against omicron, as the data suggests, and has set a goal of offering everyone 18 and up a third shot by the end of December.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sajid Javid
The British government said it won’t introduce any new coronavirus restrictions until after Christmas. Above, Sajid Javid, U.K. health secretary, arrives at the BBC for the Andrew Marr Show on December 19, 2021, in London. Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images