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SAGE calls for closure of non-essential shops to curb Omicron

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SAGE has backed a dramatic shutdown of non-essential shops and ban on households mixing to avoid a torrent of hospitalisations and deaths with Omicron running riot.

Minutes show the government’s key advisory body agreed on Thursday that hospitalisations could hit at least 3,000 a day in England alone without ‘stringent measures’. 

Grim modelling from the SPI-M-O group considered at the meeting suggests admissions could go as high as 10,000 a day – with up to 6,000 daily deaths.  

This figure, which is the worst case scenario and references the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, is based on the assumption that there will be behavioural changes such as increased mixing between households over the festive period.

The modelling suggests that if the Government implemented measures equivalent to step 2 on the roadmap out of lockdown, which included a ban on mixing households indoors and international holidays, the peak would reach 7,000 hospital admissions a day with up to 3,000 deaths a day.

If the Government was to implement measures equivalent to step 1 on the roadmap out of lockdown, including the closure of all but essential retail and social contact restricted to one other household for outdoor exercise only, the modelling suggests a peak of 5,000 hospitalisations a day with 2,000 deaths.

A record 1,820 people died from Covid on January 20 this year, during the second wave. But on Friday it was revealed that Omicron-infected Brits are three times as likely to spread Covid to someone they live with as those with Delta.

Household transmission is already the main driver of the pandemic, with up to 43 per cent of all infection believed to be caused by family members in the home.

The UK Health Security Agency said the super mutant strain, which on Friday officially became dominant in the UK, has an even bigger ‘transmission advantage’. Government modelling also estimated the strain is five-and-a-half times more likely to reinfect than Delta.

The SAGE consensus says ‘earlier interventions’ would have a ‘greater effect’ and could possibly be in place for a ‘shorter duration’, arguing they will be far less effective if delayed past New Year. 

The statement suggests effectively ripping up the government’s supposedly ‘irreversible’ roadmap out of lockdown – returning to stage 1 or 2, which means only essential retail opening and no mixing between households.    

Minutes show the government's key advisory body agreed on Thursday that hospitalisations could hit at least 3,000 a day in England alone without 'stringent measures'.

Minutes show the government’s key advisory body agreed on Thursday that hospitalisations could hit at least 3,000 a day in England alone without ‘stringent measures’.

The statement suggests effectively ripping up the government's suposedly 'irreversible' roadmap out of lockdown (pictured) - returning to stage 1 or 2, which means only essential retail opening and no mixing between households

The statement suggests effectively ripping up the government’s suposedly ‘irreversible’ roadmap out of lockdown (pictured) – returning to stage 1 or 2, which means only essential retail opening and no mixing between households

Grim modelling from the SPI-M-O group considered at the meeting suggests admissions could go as high as 10,000 a day - with up to 6,000 daily death

Grim modelling from the SPI-M-O group considered at the meeting suggests admissions could go as high as 10,000 a day – with up to 6,000 daily death

Boris Johnson with medical chief Chris Whitty at a Downing Street press conference last week

Boris Johnson with medical chief Chris Whitty at a Downing Street press conference last week

‘Illustrative scenarios from SPI-M-O suggest that measures equivalent to those in place after Step 2 or Step 1 of the Roadmap in England, if enacted early enough, could substantially reduce the potential peak in hospital admissions and infections compared with Plan B alone (medium confidence),’ SAGE said.

‘The timing of such measures is crucial. Delaying until 2022 would greatly reduce the effectiveness of such interventions and make it is less likely that these would prevent considerable pressure on health and care settings.

‘Slowing the wave of infections would also allow more people to receive boosters before they are potentially exposed to Omicron. This would prevent (not just delay) some hospitalisations and deaths.’

The SAGE papers make clear that there is still a lot of uncertainty about the threat posed by Omicron.

But they cite ‘high confidence’ that it spreads faster than the Delta variant and will sweep the country.

Medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance briefed the Cabinet yesterday on the SAGE view.

There is deep resistance among ministers about the prospect of plunging millions of people back into lockdown wrecking Christmas again while evidence remains unclear.

Questions have also been raised about whether Mr Johnson even has the political capital to push through restrictions, after a massive revolt against Plan B last week and the bombshell resignation of his Brexit minister Lord Frost overnight, highlighting the danger of ‘coercive’ policies. 

However, Health Secretary Sajid Javid appeared to hint at a looming shift this morning, saying the SAGE analysis is ‘sobering’ and the government is ready to ‘do what is necessary’.

Pushed on whether a circuit breaker could be ruled out before Christmas, Mr Javid told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: ‘There are no guarantees in this pandemic, I don’t think.

‘At this point we just have to keep everything under review.’

Of the advice from scientists, he said: ‘It’s a very sobering analysis. We take it very seriously.

‘We do have to challenge data and underlying assumptions, I think that is appropriate, and take into account a broader set of facts.’ 

In interviews this morning, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government has to use the 'data that we have got' and infections were rising quickly

In interviews this morning, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government has to use the ‘data that we have got’ and infections were rising quickly 

He also gave a firm commitment that parliament will be recalled if any action is going to be taken. 

At the first stage of the roadmap in March this year only one-on-one mixing was allowed outside of households, and non-essential retail was still shut. 

At the second stage the following month bars and restaurants could serve customers outdoors, and households were not permitted to mix indoors. 

Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay will chair a Cobra meeting later that is expected to consider the option of a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown.  

But there would considerable opposition within the Cabinet. 

One minister told the Sunday Times: ‘We can’t have a situation where we lock down every winter and kill off the economy. We need to stop reading across what is happening in South Africa in terms of what is happening here. It is like comparing apples with pears.’

There is speculation that instead the ‘handbrake would be pulled’ after December 25, with claims an announcement has been pencilled in for Boxing Day.

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