Minister says that after Rishi Sunak’s talks with business leaders, government is about to say more
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Last modified on Tue 21 Dec 2021 05.47 EST
The Treasury is set to respond on Tuesday to concerns of businesses suffering financially from the latest Covid wave, a minister has said, while a leading scientist has added that the country is facing the most uncertain period of the pandemic since March 2020.
The Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay said that, even though at cabinet on Monday ministers held back from a decision to press ahead with further restrictions, the plan B measures already implemented were having an impact.
“We’re acutely aware that, as a consequence of plan B, we have seen significant behaviour change,” Barclay told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“You see that for example, in restaurant bookings. That is why the chancellor [Rishi Sunak] has been engaging with industry leaders.”
Barclay said Sunak was talking to industry figures about their financial predicament and the government would be saying more about this issue later on Tuesday.
Barclay also said, in a separate interview, that the government was “keen to keep businesses open” and and that hospitality firms “should continue to plan for the bookings they have”.
Barclay and Sunak were among the cabinet ministers pressing for more data at a meeting on Monday afternoon before they could agree to calls from Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, and Sir Patrick Vallance, its chief scientific adviser, for new restrictions going beyond plan B.
But, in an interview after the cabinet meeting, Boris Johnson also stressed that further action had not been ruled out, and some in the government expect new restrictions on socialising in England to be introduced after Christmas, with parliament being recalled next week for MPs to pass the measures.
Asked about the Labour party claim that the cabinet delayed taking a decision because Johnson was too weak to push through new restrictions in the face of opposition from lockdown-sceptic Tories, Barclay said he did not accept that. “The key issue is that there is a time lag [in the data],” he said.
In a separate interview with the Today programme, Sir Jeremy Farrar, a former member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and head of the health research foundation the Wellcome Trust said he thought it was reasonable for ministers to wait for more data before ordering new restrictions.
He said the country was in “the most difficult, most uncertain” period of the pandemic since March last year and that, although Omicron was spreading “unbelievably fast’”, there was great uncertainty about what impact this would have on hospitalisations, the death rate and the health service generally.
He continued: “I think it is reasonable that, if there is going to be more data, if we can watch what is happening, particularly in London, the epicentre, for another 24 hours, 48 hours – but if transmission continues to rise … we will see hospitalisations rising after that, and then I believe the government will have to act.
“But amid the current uncertainty about severity, about transmission and about the broader impact on society, I think it is reasonable to pause for 24 hours, maybe 36 hours until we see other data.”
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