UK’s Johnson defies pressure to impose COVID curbs over Christmas | Coronavirus pandemic News


PM Boris Johnson says ministers decided not to limit social interactions over the imminent festive period, but will keep situation under review.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defied pressure to tighten coronavirus rules over Christmas to curb surging Omicron cases, but pledged to keep the situation “under constant review”.

The embattled leader, who is reeling from weeks of crises over various scandals and is facing mounting disquiet within his ruling Conservative Party, said on Monday that “the possibility of taking further action” remained.

However, after a Cabinet meeting, Johnson said ministers had decided not to limit social interactions over the imminent festive period – despite the government’s scientific advisers urging such action.

“In view of the balance of risks and uncertainties, particularly around the infection hospitalisation rate of Omicron … we agreed that we should keep the data from now on under constant review, keep following it hour by hour,” Johnson said shortly after.

“We will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public and to protect public health and protect our NHS (National Health Service) – and we won’t hesitate to take that action.

“We’re looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control and we will rule nothing out, but at the moment we want people to focus on exercising caution.”

The UK reported another 91,743 cases on Monday as the new variant rages, with the highest number of infections in London, where hospitalisation rates are also climbing.

Daily case rates have repeatedly broken records over the last week as the country – one of Europe’s worst-hit by the virus, with more than 147,000 deaths during the pandemic – struggles to contain Omicron.

‘Worse outcomes’

The government earlier this month resorted to its so-called “Plan B” – mandatory masks in various settings, working from home if possible and COVID passes for large events – to try to stem the surge.

It has set the highly ambitious target of offering a booster vaccine to all adults by the end of month.

But in contrast to some European neighbours, there has been no change to official guidance to restrict socialising yet.

Despite Plan B and the ramped-up jabs drive, infections are continuing to spiral, unnerving scientific and medical advisers who warn the health system will likely be overwhelmed without further measures.

In documents published over the weekend, one leading advisory body said England could see a “minimum of 3,000 hospital admissions per day at their peaks, with some scenarios having significantly worse outcomes during the first few months of 2022”.

However, Johnson, who was forced into introducing curbs on indoor mixing last Christmas, is facing intense political pressure not to do the same this time around, in particular from fellow Tories.

Last week, nearly 100 of his own MPs rebelled against rolling out COVID-19 passes – leaving him needing the support of the main opposition Labour Party to pass the proposal – arguing they were too oppressive.

Some lawmakers used the votes as an opportunity to vent their anger at Johnson, believing the man who helped the Conservatives win a large majority at a 2019 election is squandering the party’s successes with self-inflicted missteps and gaffes.

There has also been public anger at claims that Johnson and his staff broke social distancing rules in place last year by holding parties at Downing Street and other government departments.

Despite the rumblings of discontent, Conservative Party insiders said there is not enough of a groundswell against Johnson to dislodge him yet, with no potential challenger commanding enough support to replace him.


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