Additional funding to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland has been doubled – after the health secretary refused to rule out a two-week circuit-breaker lockdown.
The devolved administrations can now spend an additional £860m, the Treasury said, after extra measures and guidance to tackle Omicron were announced by the first ministers of Scotland and Wales.
Edinburgh will receive £440m, Cardiff £270m, and Belfast £150m.
The amounts will “continue to be kept under review”, the Treasury added.
“We will continue to listen to and work with the devolved administrations in the face of this serious health crisis,” said Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Devolved leaders join government meeting
The extra financial help was announced during a COBR meeting on Sunday, chaired by minister Steve Barclay.
Subjects discussed included “potential workforce disruption” caused by the rapid spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and how to prepare for that, an official summary said.
Those present agreed to keep monitoring the latest coronavirus data closely and “work with businesses and public agencies across the UK to understand the impact on industry and services”.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was “utterly incredulous to discover neither the prime minister nor the chancellor were on today’s COBR call”, a spokesperson said, adding: “That is three COBR calls in succession that they have not attended.”
It comes after Health Secretary Sajid Javid appeared to keep circuit breaker-style restrictions on the table for after Christmas – as he accused unvaccinated people of having a “damaging impact” on society.
He told Sky News that 10% of the population – more than five million people – have still not taken up the offer of a jab, and that around nine in 10 of those needing the most hospital care are unvaccinated.
“They must really think about the damage they are doing to society… they take up hospital beds that could have been used for someone with maybe a heart problem, or maybe someone who is waiting for elective surgery,” he said.
Are more restrictions on the way?
When pushed on reports that ministers are drawing up plans to introduce more rules after Christmas, Mr Javid said the government will “do what is necessary” but any change must be “backed up by the data”.
He added that ministers and their scientific advisers are discussing the latest data “almost on an hourly basis”.
Senior government scientists have suggested that extra restrictions are needed “within days” to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by Omicron.
Sky News understands experts who produce advice for ministers believe there are now “hundreds of thousands” of infections every day – many more than the number of official cases recorded on the daily dashboard.
There are warnings that there could be a staffing crisis in the NHS this winter because of absences caused by coronavirus cases if the government does not do more to stop the spread.
But Downing Street is resisting so far, instead hoping that Plan B measures and the expansion of the booster jab programme will be enough.
Latest COVID data
Latest data shows a record day for boosters, with more than 900,000 given out on Saturday.
Another 82,886 coronavirus cases have also been reported – down on recent days but much higher than last Sunday’s total of 48,854.
There have been 45 more deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, which is down on yesterday’s 125, and also on the 52 reported this time last week.