BORIS Johnson tonight warned he “reserves the possibility” to impose fresh Covid restrictions – but is not pulling the trigger just yet.
After a marathon three-hour emergency Cabinet meeting the PM announced he would be reviewing the “extremely difficult” situation hour by hour.
Top docs this afternoon presented Cabinet with sobering stats about the super-strain’s rapid spread that risks swamping hospitals.
Volunteers are signing up in droves to help out the campaign effort including the heroic recruits of The Sun’s Jabs Army.
And the PM dropped the strongest hint yet more restrictions could be needed to battle the rising tide of Omicron infections.
Speaking in No10 he said: “We agreed that we should keep the data from now on under constant review, keep following it, hour by hour.
“And unfortunately, I must say to people – we will have to reserve the the possibility of taking further action to protect the public and to protect public health and to protect our NHS.
“And we won’t hesitate to take that action.”
In major developments:
Mr Johnson said the arguments in Cabinet for and against more measures were “finely balanced”.
The Sun revealed today that the PM delayed announcing more curbs after Cabinet demanded clearer data before imposing measures that would hammer business.
Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng are believed to be among the voices afraid of the impact on the economic recovery by rushing through curbs.
Granting a concession to Cabinet hawks, Mr Johnson said: “In view of the balance of risks and uncertainties, particularly around the infection, hospitalisation rate of Omicron – how many people does Omicron put in hospital – and some other uncertainties to do with the severity, the effectiveness and so on we agreed that we should keep the data from now on under constant review.”
Angry Tory MPs are also gearing up to rebel and warn more than 100 of them will vote against any more restrictions.
Mr Johnson has vowed to give Parliament a say on any new measures, meaning his time is running out for a tightening before Christmas.
Rebel ringleader Mark Harper demanded clarity from the Government over their plans for future restrictions.
He said: “Not telling the public what’s going on is unacceptable. These are big decisions affecting everyone’s lives, people’s livelihoods and mental wellbeing across the country.”
Ex-Cabinet Minister Esther McVey tweeted: “Pleased the Cabinet and PM (recognising where majority opinion is in Parliamentary Party) are now listening to their backbench MPs & for once pushed back on the scaremongering by the lockdown fanatics.
“It seems the 100 strong backbench rebellion last week has made a difference.”
Red Waller Dehenna Davison said people in her Bishop Aukland seat were crying out for clarity on whether their Christmas plans were safe.
Businesses are begging the PM not to tighten the rules in their crucial Christmas period for a second year running.
One fearful shop owner earlier said on LBC he was “trembling” at the prospect of another golden trading period going to the wall.
NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
But the PM is being pulled the other way by gloomy scientists and politicians demanding a toughening of rules.
Leaked SAGE minutes warned that “more stringent measures would need to be implemented very soon”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan are also calling for immediate action.
One government source hit back: “Either we trust the vaccines work or we don’t. We need to move from pandemic to endemic. To save Christmas, SAGE needs stuffing.”
There is speculation Mr Johnson could catapult Britain back to the Dark Ages of last spring – with outdoor pints and the rule of six.
In a Groundhog Day nightmare the PM is believed to be considering a temporary return to the Step 2 measures enforced from April to May to tackle Omicron.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “”Rather than set out a clear plan for the country, he has chosen to protect himself from his own MPs by simply not saying anything. Boris Johnson is unfit to lead.”