With Omicron cases charting in a style we’re more used to seeing from Dogecoin, the cabinet held a crunch pre-Christmas (Zoom – no cheese and wine here) Cabinet Meeting yesterday afternoon. They were there to weigh up the evidence presented by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and the Government’s Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance. The result? Do nothing. For now.

I spoke to a Tory MP yesterday afternoon to sound out what was going on and they loftily asserted ‘nothing’s happening until the 27th at the earliest’, adding that ‘cabinet pushed back and we’re going to wait for the evidence’. The evidence they’re grimly waiting for is a rise in hospitalisations and deaths from the new variant. It’s quite the gamble, but it at least means that Christmas will, for the first time since 2019, be on!

But it also means that ministers must have heard some snippets of hope from the normally sombre government scientists.

Ministers must have heard some snippets of hope...

Amid days of news reports of SAGE advisors predicting NHS collapse and general doom, the naysayer boffins addressing the cabinet presumably didn’t paint a picture so dire that ‘let’s wait and see’ could be nothing but a suicide strategy.

And there are some indicators that there might be straws of hope to clutch onto. Evidence from South Africa, which should be taken with several doses of salt, indicates that not only is the Omicron variant less severe, but also that hospitalisations there are significantly lower than they were for the previous Delta wave.

There are some indicators that there might be straws of hope to clutch onto...

And while South Africa is very different from the UK demographically (it’s younger), in terms of vaccines (they have less) and where they are in the pandemic (significant recent Delta infections) this is encouraging.

Over here the booster campaign is going great guns, with over one million boosted in a single day and over 50% of the population now treble-jabbed, a huge achievement. And an important one as evidence is increasingly available to suggest that a boost will provide good protection against the new variant and particularly against hospitalisation and death.

Hospitalisations are only up 4% week-on-week at present...

Meanwhile hospitalisation figures appear to be holding firm. While there’s usually a lag between infection and hospitalisation we should be already seeing a spike and hospitalisations are only up 4% week-on-week at present and areas where Omicron originally took hold, like Northamptonshire, are still not seeing the spikes we should expect by now.

But this is all a big ‘if’. And even if Omicron does turn out to be a lot less serious than expected there is still a real chance that the NHS will come under enough strain to warrant further measures, with doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers isolating en masse.

There is still a real chance that the NHS will come under enough strain to warrant further measures...

It’s worth looking to our immediate neighbours to see what kind of restrictions the government will bring in next. In Wales sport will now be held ‘behind closed doors’ while the Scottish government has urged a three family limit on gatherings.

The government has also been helped by the public, effectively doing lockdown themselves by avoiding pubs, clubs and restaurants in a bid to avoid Omicron until after they’ve seen granny this Christmas. Expect that to change once Christmas is out of the way and we all pour back into our locals, fill up restaurants and hit venues again.

Widely discussed have been measures to restrict hospitality...

Government measures, then, may well take that into account on the 27th. Widely discussed have been measures to restrict hospitality to the sort of rules we saw back in April, with al fresco dining only (hello minus seven temperatures).

And if so then we’re hoping for more government help for an industry that has taken the brunt of government measures over the last two years (and, indeed, government non-measures, given the current situation).

The Chancellor needs to respond with direct help to help the industry and that’s required now if we’re hoping to see the sector survive into the New Year. Here are some ideas from our end, but making cash loans or grants available today would be a start.

Let's cross everything that the Cabinet's dice roll pays off...

But whatever happens on the 27th, the government will have a much clearer picture of the situation and the effect of Omicron by then. Keep an eye on the government dashboard and let’s cross everything that the Cabinet’s dice roll pays off.

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