Further Covid restrictions between Christmas and New Year are under discussion in government, Dominic Raab has said, but stressed he believed plan B measures should be enough to allow people to spend the season with loved ones.
Raab’s comments came as Boris Johnson faces the biggest rebellion of his premiership, with at least 80 Tory MPs planning to vote against the restrictions, which include additional mask-wearing and Covid passes for large events.
Asked if the measures, which also include guidance on working from home, were enough to stop the spread of the virus without further restrictions, Raab said: “These issues are always discussed but we have got plan B, that’s what we think is required over the Christmas period.”
The deputy prime minister and justice secretary told Times Radio he thought Christmas Day was safe to spend with family. “I think it is. I want to give that reassurance. I think people can look forward to spending Christmas with loved ones in a way that we couldn’t last year.”
On Monday, Sajid Javid said estimated daily Omicron cases hit 200,000 and the variant claimed its first life in the UK. The government’s campaign to give booster vaccines to more than 1 million people a day also got under way, prompting the NHS website to crash and people to queue in the street for up to five hours for their jabs.
Amid the alarming figures, Raab was forced to clarify on BBC Breakfast that nine people were in hospital with the variant, having previously sparked concern by saying there were around 250. A source close to Raab said he had misheard the question on Sky News. The correct figure is understood to be 10.
He acknowledged there were “teething problems” after people queued for hours for vaccines. “It does take a few days just to make sure we get to a steady state. We’ll keep straining every sinew to make sure we can reach that target.”
Defending the government’s plan to introduce passes to show vaccine or test status, Raab said it was “crass” to compare the measure to Nazi Germany, as rebel MP Marcus Fysh had done. “I don’t like that kind of language and I don’t think it’s appropriate,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
But Tobias Ellwood, the former minister who now chairs the defence select committee, said the plan was illogical, even though he backed more widespread wearing of masks. “It’s this final one to do with vaccine passports for large events, there are some practical implications as to how this will be enforced,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.
“But, more importantly, you can go into a large venue with a recent negative lateral flow test, again that makes sense, but you can also turn up if you had proof of having two jabs, which may have been completed six months ago, so even with a new mutation you could actually be carrying Covid.
“Leadership is about taking people to where perhaps they didn’t realise they needed to go, but they must understand the plan, and this is illogical at the moment.”
Raab said Covid health certificates were not a “big step or a slippery slope” and said it would not discriminate against those who were unvaccinated because people could also provide a negative test.
“If you want to go into a crowded venue, I think most people would think that voluntarily as a matter of their own safety, but also [for] those around them, that that is a reasonable thing to do,” Raab said. “I do understand the concerns and that’s why we should have a proper debate.
“But, ultimately, I think people should vote for these measures; they are a proportionate, targeted approach given what we don’t know and the precautionary approach we need to take, just temporarily, while we get to grips with Omicron.”