British ministers have been summoned to an emergency meeting of the Cabinet on Monday afternoon as the government responds to the rising number of Omicron Covid variant cases.
The meeting was scheduled by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for 1400 GMT where chief medical adviser Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance will update ministers on the Covid situation.
Johnson is under pressure from members of his own party not to introduce new restrictions, and is struggling to maintain control after a series of photos and allegations have emerged claiming he and his staff held parties in breach of lockdown rules at the time.
However, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has called for new measures before the new year to ease pressure on the National Health Service.
The Cabinet meeting was called as hospitality industry leaders called on Finance Minister Rishi Sunak to commit to a package of support for businesses or risk the permanent closure of 10,000 pubs and restaurants.
They were responding to a collapse in bookings as traditional Christmas work parties have been cancelled.
Sunak, who was forced to return early from a trip to the US, is reportedly eyeing another fresh emergency VAT cut for the sector.
Kate Nicholls, head of UKHospitality, said that as many as 10,000 sites could close if support is not announced imminently, with measures necessary even without further restrictions.
“We don’t have another week, the industry is hanging on by its fingernails. We need an announcement that something is coming by the beginning of this week – even if the details aren’t worked out yet,” she told the Telegraph newspaper.
“Even if the details aren’t clearly spelt out, we need to end this limbo. My inbox is full of people asking how to pay staff in the run-up to Christmas. If no support is coming we will see an acceleration of business failures.”
British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin said staff shortages meant some pub chains have moved workers to concentrate bookings in one venue, while other venues have been forced shut over the Christmas period.
“The impact of the announcements this December have been devastating with millions of cancellations and a huge drop in footfall causing huge losses for businesses and worry for the new year.
“Food has been stocked, cellars are full, we just hope we can deliver Christmas for our customers and receive enough support to sustain our pubs and brewers through this winter.”
A Treasury spokesperson said Sunak had spoken to “a range of business and industry leaders in recent days”.
“We recognise how important the festive period is for so many businesses and the government will continue to engage constructively on how it can best provide ongoing support to the businesses and sectors affected.”
Johnson last week told the public to “think carefully” before attending any social gatherings, while Whitty said people should “prioritise social interactions”.