Boris Johnson is considering urging the public to limit household mixing over Christmas, as he risks a new row with his Cabinet.
The Telegraph understands that the Prime Minister has been presented with three options drawn up by officials for further restrictions to curb the spread of omicron.
The lowest level of intervention would see families asked to limit indoor contacts, without legal enforcement.
However, Mr Johnson is also weighing up option two, which would mandate curbs on household mixing, the return of social distancing and an 8pm curfew on pubs and restaurants. Option three is the return to full lockdown.
Ministers are also discussing imposing restrictions from Boxing Day, which would see pubs and restaurants closed.
Any new legal restrictions would require the recall of MPs to Parliament to vote them through, which could happen as soon as Wednesday.
One Cabinet minister said there remained “heated debate” over the plan and that discussions would continue on Monday.
On Sunday night the PM was warned that further regulations would not be “stomached” by many ministers, including Rishi Sunak, Kwasi Kwarteng, Grant Shapps and Jacob Rees-Mogg.
The Prime Minister has already suffered the loss of Lord Frost, the Brexit negotiator, over the Plan B Covid measures. The Telegraph has been told one other Cabinet minister would be willing to follow him and quit if lockdown were reimposed.
The moves also risk a backlash from business, as Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, was warned on Sunday that he has 24 hours to commit to a package of support or risk the permanent closure of 10,000 pubs and restaurants. The industry is already suffering owing to a dramatic fall in bookings and a surge in cancellations.
It comes as there were 82,886 new daily Covid cases, the third day in a row the number of confirmed infections was over 80,000.
However, there were also a record 904,598 booster jabs given on Saturday, according to the latest data.
Sajid Javid: ‘No guarantees in this pandemic’
On Sunday, Sajid Javid refused to rule out further restrictions before Christmas.
The Health Secretary told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “There are no guarantees in this pandemic, I don’t think. At this point we just have to keep everything under review.”
He said it was time for people to act more cautiously, adding: “We know this thing is spreading rapidly. We know already now that in London, it’s around 80 per cent of infections, in England it’s around 60 per cent of infections.”
Mr Javid added that he would be cutting down on hugs from his mother if he visits her over Christmas.
Meanwhile on Monday, Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, said he couldn’t make any guarantees when asked whether the Government would impose further restrictions before Christmas.
“I just can’t make hard and fast guarantees,” he told Sky News, stressing that ministers would continue to review the latest available data.
The comments came after the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned that the number of infections could reach two million by the end of the month without tougher restrictions.
However, Mr Johnson was told on Sunday that he would face a Cabinet backlash if he adopted a ban on households mixing and closure of non-essential shops.
“The Cabinet aren’t stomaching any more restrictions right now,” said one Cabinet minister. “Apart from the fanatics, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid, the rest of them are pretty sensible, including the PM.”
Scientists trying to ‘soften us up’
The Cabinet was briefed on Saturday by Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, who were “trying to soften us up for what [restrictions] were to come next,” said a Cabinet minister.
The two scientists echoed Sage advisers in saying more measures were urgently required to stop hospital admissions soaring above 3,000 a day in England but the Cabinet minister claimed: “Their data was just trashed by the Cabinet. We tore them apart.
“There will be no more restrictions brought in by the back door. That would be fatal. More guidelines rather than restrictions are entirely possible.”
Guidance, rather than regulations, believed to be the most favoured option
Mr Johnson is understood to favour the most ‘light touch’ option presented to him.
“It is guidance but not regulations on household mixing,” said a government source – similar to the Scottish Government’s advice that currently urges families to limit gatherings to three households except on Christmas Day.
However, the source added: “The third tier is the heaviest covering everything up to and including lockdown. On the basis of the data, there are some who believe we could quite easily justify locking down before Christmas.”
Last Tuesday, Mr Johnson suffered the biggest rebellion of his premiership and was forced to rely on Labour votes to pass his Plan B regulations in the Commons.
Mr Javid reaffirmed that Parliament would be recalled if the Government sought to introduce more restrictions. He suggested ministers might need to act even if the data on omicron was still not clear. “If we wait until the data is perfect, it may be too late,” he said.
A government source said: “We have a plan in place which is Plan B, which we only introduced last week and we have the massive acceleration of the booster programme. We are looking at the impact of those.”