The most effective way to stop the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus would have been to lock the circuit breaker before Christmas, a senior government adviser has said.
Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said it was clear that Plan B measures alone would not be enough to stop the spiral the number of cases.
Professor Reicher, speaking to Times Radio in a personal capacity, said it was time to act.
It comes as officials drew up draft plans for a two-week breaker lockout after Christmas.
The Financial Times reported that Boris Johnson was presented with a number of options on Friday as part of a so-called Plan C, ranging from “light advice to pushing people, to foreclosure.”
The newspaper cited allies of the prime minister who said Mr Johnson still wanted to go the lead, but he also had to be realistic about Omicron’s threat.
Leaks of Sage minutes, seen by the BBC, said scientists had told ministers tougher measures were to be put in place “very soon”.
The BBC reported that advisers had recommended moving to the restrictions seen in Steps one and two of easing the lockdown restrictions in the spring. This included a ban on inner mixing and inner hospitality.
They would have warned against the postponement of new interventions until 2022.
The Times reported that a draft regulation was in the works that could prohibit meeting other people indoors except for work purposes and that pubs and restaurants would be restricted to outdoor service only, during two weeks after Christmas.
It comes as Cabinet ministers have reportedly been briefed on the latest situation regarding the Omicron variant.
There was no Cabinet meeting or further discussion, but ministers received an update on the data surrounding the variant.
Professor Reicher told Times Radio on Saturday that “all science suggests that (Plan B) will not be enough”.
He said: “The only really, or at least the most effective, way to have an immediate effect is to decrease the number of contacts we have.
“In many ways, the most effective way to decrease contact is to have a circuit breaker.
“Now you could have it after Christmas, the problem is after Christmas it’s probably too late, that’s probably when we’ll have had a huge wave of infections with all the impact on. the society.
“When people say ‘look we don’t want to close’ of course we don’t want to close. But the problem is that right now things are closing anyway, because of the spread of the infection.
“So I think we need to act now. ”
Lord Victor Adebowale, president of the NHS Confederation, has expressed support for a breaker, warning that a cautious approach should be taken.
He told Times Radio: “I would support the breaker. My members would flip the breaker.
“We have been calling for Plan B for some time and we are happy that it has been passed. I think the government must be prepared to recall Parliament if further interventions are necessary.
He added: “The point is, we should apply the precautionary principle. We should protect our NHS and our public services. We don’t have an economy without health.
The UK reported more than 90,000 new cases of Covid on Friday in another record daily total.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said the Omicron variant had been identified in 89 countries on Thursday and had a doubling time of between 1.5 and three days.
He said data is still limited on the severity of the strain, but added: “Given the rapidly increasing number of cases, it is possible that many health systems will be quickly overwhelmed.”
A government spokesperson said: “The government will continue to closely scrutinize all emerging data and we will keep our measures under review as we learn more about this variant.”