The government has announced new restrictions which came into place on Tuesday after a new variant of concern, Omicron, was identified.
At least 3,000 Omicron cases have been reported in the UK so far. One person has died after testing positive for the new variant, while approximately 10 patients have been hospitalised with it.
Boris Johnson has already put the UK under ‘Plan B’ restrictions and is accelerating the booster programme. Should Britain be ready for its fourth lockdown in less than two years?
What has Downing Street said?
Downing Street has not announced any plans to introduce a lockdown any time soon.
However, Johnson has also refused to rule out introducing more restrictions to tackle Omicron in the coming weeks.
When he first introduced new measures – which include mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport, along with tightened rules about international travel – he said they were “temporary and precautionary” restrictions which were set to be reviewed after three weeks.
But the government’s language has intensified since Omicron cases has soared.
The country has now moved to ‘plan B’ where NHS Covid passes are expected to be used, and people are advised to work from home where possible.
On Monday, Johnson did not say the UK would not lockdown again, explaining: “Throughout the pandemic I’ve been at great pains to stress to the public that we have to watch where the pandemic is going and we take whatever steps are necessary to protect public health.”
Health secretary Sajid Javid previously expressed hopes that these new measures could be lifted again “within weeks” and urged people to “carry on with Christmas plans”.
But on Monday, he also warned that there were “no guarantees” when it comes to the UK’s fight against Covid.
What might trigger a lockdown?
Hospitalisations need to reach almost 1,500 a day for the NHS to be overwhelmed, triggering another lockdown.
Government data shows there are currently around 840 people admitted each day, but only 10 are believed to be Omicron cases.
Deaths from Covid remain relatively low. One person has died from Omicron in the UK so far, which is exceptional low compared to the previous rates seen shortly before lockdowns in March 2020, November 2020 and January 2021.
Yet there is always a lag between rising infections and subsequent death rates.
Scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine also warned on Saturday that Omicron could cause between 25,000 and 75,000 deaths in England in the next five months.
Dr Mike Tildesley, part of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M) told Sky News, “the idea of a winter lockdown is a long way away” unless the NHS comes under severe pressure again.
Will Christmas be cancelled?
As Christmas 2020 was effectively cancelled just six days before December 25, this is a major concern for many families this year.
The prime minister previously told reporters that, despite the new variant, Christmas would be “considerably better” compared to last year.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said in October: “With winter ahead, we cannot blow it now.
“Although vaccinations are our primary form of defence, there are many more things we can all do to help contain the spread of this virus, like meeting outdoors where it is possible.”
He added Christmas is possible “if we all play our part”.
Javid has maintained this message despite the discovery of Omicron, telling the media: “I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas. I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.”
Javid also told the Today programme on Monday that he was planning to go ahead with Christmas.
He explained: “I think people should plan to enjoy their Christmas with their family and their loved ones and their friends, but please can be cautious.”
What you can do to stay safe in winter
As the UK’s future with Covid remains difficult to predict, you can reduce your own Covid risk in the upcoming months through several simple measures.
Make sure you ventilate your home for at least 10 minutes every hour. This prevents Covid from building up indoors.
Get vaccinated if you haven’t already and make sure you accept your booster jab when you are called up by the NHS.
Get your flu jab as the annual virus is likely to affect people more this year following last year’s lockdown – catching the flu could then make you more susceptible to Covid.
Wear a mask in crowded places, both indoors and outdoors, and wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when you can.
Work from home where possible and reduce the number of people you see, or try to see more people outdoors.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.