Boris Johnson has confirmed no new Covid restrictions will be introduced in England before Christmas, telling Brits to “go ahead with their Christmas plans”.
But speaking on Tuesday afternoon, the prime minister said he would not rule out introducing stricter measures soon after.
Johnson said “continuing uncertainty” about the severity of the Omicron variant and hospital admission rates means he did not believe new rules could be brought in yet.
But he added situation remained “finely balanced” and people should “exercise caution”.
“So what I can say tonight is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health,” Johnson said in a video message.
His comments will increase speculation the government will move to tighten the rules as soon as Boxing Day in an attempt to suppress the spread of the Omicron variant.
“There is no doubt that Omicron continues to surge with a speed unlike anything we’ve seen before,” the PM said.
“The situation remains extremely difficult but I also recognise that people have been waiting to hear whether their Christmas plans are going to be affected.
“But in view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalisation rate or the impact of the vaccine rollout or the boosters, we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas.
“We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed.
“What this means is that people can go ahead with their Christmas plans but the situation remains finely balanced and I would urge everyone to exercise caution, to keep protecting yourselves and your loved ones, especially the vulnerable.
“And remember to keep following the guidance – wear a mask indoors when required to do so, keep fresh air circulating, and take a test before you visit elderly or vulnerable relatives.”
Johnson’s comments come after Chancellor Rishi Sunak offered a £1 billion support package to hospitality and leisure businesses hit by Covid restrictions amid concerns over the high transmission of Omicron.
A further 90,629 lab-confirmed Covid cases have been recorded in the UK as of 9am on Tuesday.
A total of 7,801 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid as of December 20. This is the highest number since November 23 and is up 1% from a week earlier.