After Christmas, the British government announced Thursday that it will not impose any new coronavirus restrictions until after the holiday season, praising preliminary findings on the severity of the omicron variant.
“Encouraging news,” according to Health Secretary Sajid Javid, after two studies found that the omicron strain is associated with a significantly lower risk of hospitalization than the previously dominant delta strain. However, he stated that it was “not clear at this time…by how much the risk has been reduced.”
The Health Security Agency of the United Kingdom is expected to release new data on omicron later on Thursday. It comes as a result of two studies conducted by researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Glasgow, which found that patients with omicron were between 20 percent and 68 percent less likely than those with delta to require hospitalization.
Based on information gathered in South Africa, where the variant was first discovered, it appears that omicron may be milder in that country. Scientists emphasize that, even if the findings of these preliminary studies are confirmed, any reductions in severity must be weighed against the fact that omicron spreads much more quickly than delta and is more resistant to vaccines than delta.
Despite these considerations, the new variant may still be able to overwhelm health-care systems due to the sheer number of infections it causes. Confirmed coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom, where omicron is now the dominant strain, have increased by nearly 60% in a single week.
In an effort to slow the spread of omicron, the Conservative government in the United Kingdom reinstated rules requiring people to wear face masks in stores and to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test before entering nightclubs and other crowded venues earlier this month.
Officials also advised people to get tested on a regular basis and to limit their socializing. Many people in the United Kingdom have taken that advice, causing entertainment and hospitality businesses to struggle during what should be their busiest time of the year.
Although the government has provided grants and loans to support restaurants, bars, theaters, and other venues, many believe that these measures are insufficient to keep them from going out of business.
In England, the rules established by the United Kingdom government are followed. Other parts of the United Kingdom, such as Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, have imposed slightly stricter regulations, which include the closure of nightclubs and bars.
In a statement, Javid stated that the British government would “continue to analyze (the) data, and if we need to do anything more, we will,” but that “nothing more will happen before Christmas.”
“I believe that people should enjoy their Christmases with their families and friends, despite the precautions that we all are taking,” he said. “Of course, people should exercise caution.”
The government is hoping that vaccine boosters will act as a protective barrier against omicron, as the data suggests, and has set a goal of offering a third shot to everyone aged 18 and up by the end of December this year.