UK mulls tougher curbs as Omicron cases hit new peak

The United Kingdom cabinet is on Monday holding talks to consider options for tougher lockdown restrictions as the country recorded another daily high of Omicron cases at 12,133.

The total number of confirmed Omicron cases in the UK stands at 37,101, taking the overall COVID-19 infections tally to 82,886 on Sunday.

A further 45 COVID-related deaths have been reported in people who died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.

“I just can’t make hard, fast guarantees,” said UK deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab when asked if tougher lockdown measures are expected.

“I think we will have a much better Christmas than last year because of the vaccination level –both the overall vaccination level and particularly the impact of the booster campaign. People will need to be careful and cautious,” he said.

According to UK media reports, civil servants have produced three options for ministers to consider as future COVID measures, and they range in severity from stricter guidance on households mixing to early closures of shops and restaurants to limit gatherings.

Ministers are yet to decide between the options, with reports that UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak is among those resisting strict lockdown measures at a time when businesses are already struggling to cope with cancellations and staff absences at what is usually a lucrative Christmas period.

The government’s scientific advisers, however, want more restrictions and have suggested reducing the size of groups that can meet and closing venues where there is a high risk of transmission.

There are also fears over staff absences caused by the Omicron surge, with some national health service trusts already having to postpone non-essential work.

It comes as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains under pressure of his own, with new images published by The Guardian of what looks like a wine and cheese party in the garden of 10 Downing Street in May 2020 when strict rules were in place on different households mixing.

Downing Street has defended the image as a work meeting but it comes in the wake of an ongoing investigation into other such gatherings, which critics say undermine public trust as they appear in breach of lockdown restrictions in place last year.

Opposition Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of being ‘asleep at the wheel’ and demanded clarity about how Christmas will look as soon as possible.

“We need to tackle the spread of Omicron, support businesses and protect public services. Boris Johnson is too weak to provide the leadership our country needs,” he said on Twitter.

Current Plan B rules for England include COVID vaccine passes for events, face masks in most indoor settings and people being urged to work from home if they can.

Other parts of the United Kingdom have similar rules, with Scotland asking people to limit social contact to three households at a time in the run-up to Christmas and Wales closing nightclubs from December 27.

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