ITV’s Peston points out major flaw in Boris’ goal to ‘protect economy’ with Covid plan

Peston tells Nadhim Zahawi he’s ‘cutting and running’

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The UK Government has continued to stave off calls for restrictions to curb the spread of the Omicron variant in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, however, re-introduced various restrictions immediately after the Christmas weekend.

Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that England will continue in Plan B for the moment, adding that it would be “folly” to think the pandemic is over.

He said that the “way forward for the country as a whole is to continue on the path that we are on, but of course, we’ll keep all the data under review”.

“It will be absolute folly to say that this thing is all over. We’ve got to stick with Plan B.”

This comes as the Prime Minister warned that pressure on NHS hospitals will be “considerable” in the first part of the new year, due to the “surge” of Omicron through the country.

A cornerstone of the refusal to re-impose restrictions in England is that social distancing guidelines or lockdowns returning to the country could jeopardise an already battered economy.

However, ITV’s political editor, Robert Peston, picked apart Mr Johnson’s current COVID-19 strategy, saying that having no restrictions doesn’t necessarily safeguard England’s economic interests.

He wrote: “It’s worth pointing out the flaw in Boris Johnson’s argument that refusing further Covid restrictions in England – resisting the limits on social interaction imposed in the rest of the UK – is for the good of the economy.

“Massive staff absences don’t just hurt schools and hospitals but impair the ability of all employers to carry on as usual.

“And when they also lead to unplanned cuts in the supply of goods and services, they reduce income AND they’re potentially inflationary.

“They further squeeze our living standards, reinforcing the likely pressure from Brexit bureaucracy at the borders that was ushered in on 1 January.”

The Cabinet Office warned employers on Sunday to prepare for almost a quarter of their workforce off work as Omicron cases skyrocket.

Ministers are preparing “robust contingency plans” for such high absence rates, with the Government recognising how detrimental high staff absence rates can be for businesses.

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In the US, concerns over having enough people to keep various sectors going played into the decision of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to shorten the isolation period from ten to five days.

This bolstered demands in the UK to do the same, after various industries, such as transportation and healthcare staggered to a halt.

However, the US’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, has now suggested that the CDC may revise their rules after backlash over the decision.

He hinted that the CDC may consider a testing requirement on day five in order for the infected person to be released from self-isolation.

Mr Johnson, addressing this push for shorter self-isolation periods on Monday, said: “The key thing is, we don’t want to be releasing people back into the workplace when they’re still infectious.”

Just ahead of Christmas, the UK Government slashed the mandatory isolation period to seven days for those who tested negative on days six and seven.

However, CEO of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson warned earlier on Monday that “a number of trusts across the country have declared internal critical incidents over the last few days”, fearing they “might not be able to supply the [needed] range of critical/priority services”.

Mr Peston added: “As is characteristic of Boris Johnson and his government, there’s been no cost-benefit analysis of the merits of his light touch response to the Omicron onslaught versus more paternalistic restrictions.

“Urged on by the libertarian wing of his party, he’s followed his gut that we’ll thank him for muddling through. We might not.”

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