Monday is D-Day for New Year’s Eve celebrations with hospitality chiefs warning against new coronavirus restrictions.
Boris Johnson will receive crunch Covid-19 data which could boost or derail festivities.
Opponents of tighter measures hope statistics will show the surging wave of Omicron infections has not yet led to huge growth in the number of patients admitted to hospitals.
But scientists have warned that even though the variant appears to cause less severe illness, the sheer number of cases and its higher transmissibility mean that even a small increase in sufferers needing hospital treatment could overwhelm the NHS – piling pressure on Downing Street to impose stricter rules.
Pubs, clubs and restaurants face an anxious wait to find out whether they will be hit with new curbs as celebrations hang in the balance.
The Prime Minister, who is at his country retreat Chequers, will chair a virtual meeting of top officials to study vital figures collected over the past week.
He is expected to hear from Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
Hospitality bosses urged the Premier to rule out tougher curbs and bolster the struggling industry, which has been hit by a string of cancelled bookings after cautious families and would-be revellers shelved planned gatherings.
Campaign for Pubs campaign director Greg Mulholland told the Mirror: “This is an extremely anxious time for publicans and staff in England, not knowing if they will be able to open this week and for New Year.
“New Year’s Eve is very important for many pubs and with December trade already badly hit by previous announcements, further restrictions would be devastating, including the nonsensical suggestion of outdoor only opening in midwinter.
“Plus, the reality is, if the Prime Minister bans people from meeting in pubs, many thousands of people will instead attend illegal parties which will be much less safe than controlled, ventilated pubs.
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“So we hope that the data is positive and that pubs can continue to open to the benefit of everyone.”
Night Time Industries Association chief executive Michael Kill urged the PM to “to act with clarity and decisiveness, and firmly reject calls for further draconian measures”.
He added: “Once again our sector has suffered enormous damage as a result of the Government response to the pandemic in recent weeks.
“It’s likely that thousands of our businesses will never recover from this damage.
“Most of these are small and medium-sized owner-run businesses that play a vital part in the cultural, social, and economic lives of our towns and cities.
“And if that is not bad enough, we now face the possibility that major parts of our sector may face further curbs, and, in the case of nightclubs, total closure in the coming days.”
He added: “However, there are increasingly promising reports that the Omicron variant, though highly transmissible, may not be as aggressive as previous variants.”
UK Health Security Agency data published just before Christmas showed patients infected with the strain are 50% to 70% less likely to need hospital treatment compared with people with the Delta mutation.
Caroline Clarke, the chief executive of London’s Royal Free Hospital, believed the capital’s NHS “will cope” with the latest onslaught.
But she admitted the health service was “planning for the worst and hoping for the best”.
“We are putting in place all our contingency plans, and in extremis, it will feel really uncomfortable,” she told the Sunday Times.
“On the current modelling I’ve seen, I think London will cope, but it will be really tough.”
She added: “In the hospitals, we are seeing a rise in Covid patients but it’s not exponential.
“We will see more patients coming in with Covid in the New Year; it’s going to catch up, but it’s just whether it goes up exponentially or whether it goes up in a more managed way.”
The PM faces opposition to any new rules from Tory backbenchers – 99 of whom defied him this month over imposing tighter restrictions.
Legally-binding curbs impacting on New Year’s Eve would need to be agreed at an emergency Cabinet meeting as soon as tomorrow.
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Parliament would then be recalled this week so MPs could vote on measures paving the way for another humiliating rebellion for Mr Johnson.
One option the PM has is to stop short of legally-binding measures but issue guidance instead – leaving it to people to decide how much risk they are comfortable with.
Mr Johnson was said to be “absolutely determined” that schools should reopen after the Christmas break – despite rocketing case numbers.
“There is a shared commitment across government to make sure they stay open,” a source close to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said.
However, Lib Dem education spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: “Our children have been failed again and again throughout this pandemic by Boris Johnson’s government.
“Of course, schools should stay open but he needs to explain how and with what help for teachers and parents.
“From air purifiers to rolling out the vaccine to teenagers, this Government has dragged its feet.
“Ministers must set out a clear plan to reassure families that schools will be kept open, instead of making yet more empty promises.”
The Government today began sending text messages reminding people to “Get Boosted Now” and build up protection through jabs.
Restrictions on hospitality will come into force in Scotland tomorrow with nightclubs shuttered and hospitality businesses only able to offer table service if serving alcohol.
Bars, restaurants and indoor leisure facilities such as gyms, theatres and museums will also have to reinstate one-metre social distancing regulations.
New measures were introduced today in Wales, where a maximum of six people can meet in pubs, cinemas and restaurants.
Thirty people are allowed at indoor events while 50 people are permitted at outdoor events.
Two-metre social distancing is required in public premises and offices, and nightclubs are shut.
Daily publication of data on cases, deaths and vaccinations was suspended for two days over Christmas.