UK set to bring in new Covid restrictions after Christmas

With the Omicron cases rising, British government is likely to impose new restrictions from December 28



Pedestrians walk past a sign for St Thomas' Hospital Covid-19 vaccination centre in London. — AP
Pedestrians walk past a sign for St Thomas' Hospital Covid-19 vaccination centre in London. — AP

By Reuters

Published: Mon 20 Dec 2021, 8:14 PM

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson may introduce new restrictions to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant after Christmas, the Times and other media reported on Monday.

Britain has reported record levels of Covid-19 cases over the past week, with officials and ministers warning that hospitalisations are also rising.

A cabinet meeting on Tuesday had raised expectations new measures may be imminent, but media said ministers pushed back and that restrictions, lasting between 2 weeks and a month, were now more likely to be introduced after Christmas.

“The 28th has been pencilled in by officials as the starting point for the new curbs,” Steven Swinford, political editor of the Times, said on Twitter.

Swinford and others said these would likely include a ban on households mixing indoors, as well as possible limits on the numbers who can meet outdoors and pubs and restaurants limited to opening outdoors only.

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Omicron has raced around the world and so far been reported in at least 89 countries. It is known to be highly transmissible, but the severity of illness it causes remains unclear.

The UK Health Security Agency said on Sunday that 12 people in Britain had died with the Omicron variant and 104 were currently in hospital with it.

Officials warned last week that hospitalisations could hit new highs as the effects of the latest surge of the Covid-19 pandemic work their way through the population.

Hospitality businesses have called for financial support as the government’s advice for people to limit social contacts in the run-up to Christmas has left pubs and restaurants largely empty during what should be one of their busiest periods.

“That is something we keep under review,” Johnson’s spokesperson said. “We’ll continue to speak to them constructively on how government can best provide ongoing support.”

Any decision to limit how people can celebrate Christmas could exact a high political cost for Johnson, whose authority has been undermined by questions over whether he and his staff broke lockdown rules last year.

Johnson also suffered a huge rebellion in parliament last week as lawmakers from his own Conservative Party warned against imposing new Covid-19 rules.

To pass the new rules, which included ordering people to wear masks in public places, Johnson had to rely on the support of the main opposition Labour Party.

On Monday, Labour leader Keir Starmer called on Johnson to set aside infighting and come up with a plan to tackle the rising cases. “What I want to see is a government, a prime minister, that gets a grip and puts a plan forward that hopefully we can all get behind,” Starmer told reporters.


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