RISHI Sunak has fanned fears of fresh restrictions by warning that Omicron has cast an "enormous amount of uncertainty" over Christmas plans.
The Chancellor today refused to promise Brits their festive arrangements were safe and said he could not rule anything out.
Boris Johnson last night held off announcing more restrictions and is believed to be considering a post-Christmas circuit-breaker as early as December 27.
The post-festive squeeze could catapult Britain back to Step 2 restrictions like outdoor pints, a ban on indoor mixing and the hated rule of six.
Asked if he could rule out restrictions before the New Year, the Chancellor said: "I absolutely appreciate people's frustration with all of this.
"And I'd refer people to the Prime Minister's words yesterday. And unfortunately, we're just dealing with an enormous amount of uncertainty at the moment.
"And what the Prime Minister said is that we're reviewing the data day by day, hour by hour, keeping the situation under constant review that can't rule anything out."
The PM said the "explosion" of Omicron cases was a wake-up call for Brits to get their boosters – further highlighting the need for volunteers to sign up to The Sun's Jabs Army campaign.
In major developments:
- More support measures for desperate firms were announced today
- Ministers were preparing to slash the isolation period from 10 to seven days
- Sadiq Khan scrapped the planned New Years Eve event in Trafalgar Square
- A top scientist said Omicron may not be spreading as rapidly as feared
Time is running out for the PM to impose curbs before December 25 – as he needs to consult Parliament – and is believed to be mulling a December 27 tightening.
A December 27 crackdown would also need to be announced in the next couple of days so MPs can be recalled to vote.
Tory rebels are preparing to oppose fresh measures and warn more than 100 of them could revolt and trigger resignations.
Cabinet Office Minister Steve Barclay this morning declined to rule out temporary measures to arrest the rapid spread of Omicron.
Asked on LBC if the Government was considering a circuit-breaker he said: "We are looking closely at the data, there is much we still don't know about the severity of Omicron, how it leads to hospital admissions.
"We are looking particularly at the London data, there is a higher prevalence of Omicron particularly in London."
Mr Johnson yesterday bowed to pressure from Cabinet Ministers to press pause on fresh restrictions until there was clearer evidence about the Omicron threat.
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Hawkish Ministers like Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and Mr Barclay are understood to be among those fearing the economic damage of Christmas restrictions.
Grilled on the splits in the PM's top team Mr Barclay said: "I think it is right that the Cabinet has a full and robust discussion.
"That is what people would expect. It is right that we look at the balance between protecting lives and livelihoods."
Mr Sunak is today expected to announce support measures for desperate firms hit by a deluge of cancellations.
And there's fears the PM is considering a temporary return to the Step 2 measures endured last April in a Groundhog Day nightmare.
A total revival of Step 2 would see the closure of hospitality indoors, a ban on indoor mixing and a maximum of six people outdoors.
A toughening of the rules in Scotland could also pile pressure on Mr Johnson to trigger a lockdown as Nicola Sturgeon prepares to make an announcement today.
In a flicker of good news a top scientist today said Omicron "isn't spreading as fast as doomsday predictions suggest".
Cambridge professor Sir David Spiegelhalter claims that overall admissions to hospital should remain manageable – as the rate "isn't looking quite as bad" as once thought.
And Sir Jeremy Farrar, a former member of Sage, said: "Omicron is spreading unbelievably fast. It is a phenomenal variant transmission.
"There is great uncertainty about what is it going to lead to in terms of pressure on the health system, people going to hospital, particularly people dying, but also what impact is it going to have on the broader society, staff absences, the ability to have functioning other services, so there is great uncertainty.
"My personal view is that I think we can wait at the moment until there are more restrictions formally placed."
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