A steep rise in cases has caused alarm among health officials, with the UK reporting 49,139 infections on Wednesday – a 17 per cent increase on last week’s figure. Hospital admissions have also seen a steady increase in the past fortnight.
Mandatory mask wearing would be reintroduced alongside vaccine passports and working from home under the governments “Plan B” should the NHS come under unsustainable pressure.
However, officials at the Cabinet Office are understood to be mulling tighter restrictions should “Plan B” fail to bring down hospital admissions, the Daily Telegraph reports. Under the plans, a ban on household mixing would be added to the existing restrictions but pubs, restaurants and shops would remain open.
The emergency measures would mirror those in place for much of last year during the ‘Tier’ system. Though much of the economy remained open, Britons in a number of areas were only permitted to mix with members of the same household indoors.
A Whitehall source told the newspaper: “The focus is very much on measures that can be taken without a major economic impact, so keeping shops, pubs and restaurants open but looking at other ways to reduce the risks.”
Health minister Edward Argar said the claims about no household mixing at Christmas were “without foundation”.
“It iisn’t something that is being actively considered,” he told Sky News.
Health officials are said to be concerned that prolonged exposure to Covid within personal homes is accelerating the current rise in cases.
It is also feared that a spike in cases among young people could feed through into the older community.
Meanwhile, ministers have urged older Britons to come forward to get their booster jab amid concern at the slow pace of the rollout. As of October 20, three in five older adults were yet to come forward for their third shot.
Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said it is “critical we accelerate the booster programme” and that top up jabs were “absolutely” the answer to fading immunity.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, Mr Javid stressed that Plan B restrictions would not be introduced “at this point”.
He said: “We’re looking closely at the data, and we won’t be implementing our Plan B of contingency measures at this point.
“But we’ll be staying vigilant, preparing for all eventualities while strengthening our vital defences that can help us fight back against this virus.”
Mr Javid said anyone eligible for a booster jab must come forward to ensure people could spent Christmas with their loved ones.
He added: “We’ve got the jabs, we just need the arms to put them in.
“If you haven’t been invited within a week of reaching that six month milestone then please, get on to the National Booking Service and book online or phone 119.”