BBC Breakfast: Scottish bar owner slams Sturgeon's Covid rules
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The four UK nations now have varying levels of coronavirus restrictions in place, with England still only imposing minimal measures despite soaring numbers of Omicron. But with speculation rife for weeks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will soon need to decide whether the Government believes the data warrants further measures, or if this is the moment we begin to live with the virus and accept its repercussions.
After the Christmas weekend and no published figures, the PM must now sit down and hear all the latest on how the NHS is coping with record infections – the seven-day average is now 101,044 cases in the UK.
Mr Johnson has resisted imposing restrictions in England so far, but the other UK nations imposed tighter rules from Boxing Day.
But with some encouraging data showing Omicron is less likely to cause hospitalisations, there is still uncertainty about whether the Government will decide to lock the nation down, with the impact that brings, or allow the virus to run its course.
Downing Street previously said it would not hesitate to take action after Christmas if necessary.
So when can we expect to hear more?
The briefing by Government scientists on Monday is one of a regular series of updates given to the Prime Minister and he has not yet called a Cabinet meeting or announced a recall of Parliament.
MPs have been promised a vote if it is decided fresh legal measures are needed, and rules dictate 48 hours notice must be given to recall Parliament.
There is still a chance the PM will impose non-legal measures – such as asking people to limit social contact – which wouldn’t require a recall of Parliament.
If that happened, we could expect to see Mr Johnson address the nation in a press conference as usual.
What is the most likely outcome?
What might transpire is still hugely unclear as new data is emerging all the time.
The chances of the PM recalling Parliament for a vote before the New Year are no longer thought to be high, meaning formal rules in England could be delayed.
But a lot depends on the data from Christmas – the Financial Times reported that Mr Johnson is “more likely to tighten guidance” if he is told hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed.
And the Daily Mail said he was “understood to be leaning towards new guidance” rather than legally binding restrictions.
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According to the Times, the Government mood is “increasingly but very cautiously optimistic”.
So all that can be done now is wait, as Mr Johnson sits down with scientists, with Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance expected to be in attendance too.
In the House of Commons, there isn’t expected to be much support from the Prime Minister’s own MPs if he were to recall Parliament for a vote.
Writing for the Mail on Sunday, Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers, issued a scathing attack on lockdown restrictions.
He wrote: “We must take back control over our own lives.
“We need the Government to rediscover the British values of liberty and respect.
The Socialist regime in Wales and the Nationalists in Scotland have helpfully reminded us that imposing even tighter restrictions than those in England has failed to make the slightest difference.”
He said it was time to “shake off the panic-driven groupthink gripping the nation – and our political masters”.
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