Covid: Former PM Theresa May warns against ‘stopping and starting’ sectors of economy

Mrs May was joined in the House of Commons by other senior Conservatives on the backbenches who questioned the Government’s response to the Omicron variant – particularly when it comes to travel restrictions.

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Former prime minister Theresa May has warned the Government against responding to new variants by “stopping and starting sectors of our economy”.

Mrs May was joined in the House of Commons by other senior Conservatives on the backbenches who questioned the Government’s response to the Omicron variant – particularly when it comes to travel restrictions.

Conservative former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers criticised the Government’s decision to impose “new expensive requirements” for international travel.

Former transport secretary Chris Grayling urged the Health Secretary to “face down the more conservative elements of the scientific community, do the right thing and keep the restrictions as minimal as possible”.

Mr Grayling said the new travel restrictions were “a real blow” for the industry.

Mrs May said: “The early indications of Omicron are that it is more transmissible but potentially leads to less serious illness than other variants.

“I understand that would be the normal progress of a virus. Variants will continue to appear year after year.

“When is the Government going to accept that learning to live with Covid, which we will all have to do, means we will almost certainly have an annual vaccine and that we cannot respond to new variants by stopping and starting sectors of our economy which leads to businesses going under and jobs being lost?”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned against jumping to conclusions on the severity of the new variant and also stressed the new restrictions are temporary, and committed to updating the Commons next week when scientists and the Government hope to know more.

Mr Javid said: “In terms of the severity of this, I think we shouldn’t jump to any conclusion, we just don’t have enough data.

“It is not going away … for many, many years and perhaps it will lead to annual vaccinations, but we have to find ways to continue with life as normal.”

The Health Secretary said the MPs were right to talk about the “challenges” faced by the travel sector, adding: “Not just the measures that have been taken here at home but, of course, the travel sector has been hit hard because of the international measures that have been taken by so many countries. Not just the UK-based decisions.

“I think the answer really lies in making quick decisions about Omicron.”

Mr Javid reiterated that the Government “will update the House and hopefully have much more data by next week and hopefully if that data is helpful, pressures can be eased”.

He said he agreed with Mr Grayling, responding to him by saying: “Yes, I’m happy to give that commitment for all the excellent reasons he makes.”

Mr Javid also said there is “no guarantee” about how much information the Government will have on the Omicron variant by next week’s update.

He said: “As each day goes by we are getting a little bit more information, but I do think by next week with the samples that have arrived at Porton Down and other labs across the world we will have more information.

“I will just caveat that by saying I can’t make any guarantee about how much information that we will have. I am sure there will still be many unanswered questions at that point.”