LONDON — With Omicron cases beginning to fall, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain on Tuesday signaled possible plans to ease coronavirus restrictions in England, a move that would likely mollify critics in his restive Conservative Party at a time when he is besieged by career-threatening political scandals.
Mr. Johnson’s cabinet will meet on Wednesday morning to review the limited curbs now in place and to discuss the latest health data. According to his office the prime minister was expected address Parliament in late afternoon.
“Decisions on the next steps remain finely balanced,” Downing Street said in a statement, which stressed that “the Omicron variant continues to pose a significant threat and the pandemic is not over.” It urged the public to get booster shots, continuing a campaign that Mr. Johnson initiated last month.
While the statement noted that the rate of new cases remained high, “the latest data is encouraging, with cases beginning to fall.”
Downing Street did no indicate what Johnson would announce. The expected shift in coronavirus policies comes as the prime minister is under intense pressure from both opposition lawmakers, and leaders within his own party over claims that Johnson lied to Parliament about Downing Street parties during the lockdown.
Under the current rules, introduced in December under what was called “Plan B,” people in England have been urged to work from home if possible and instructed to wear face coverings in confined spaces such as public transportation.
The government also made it mandatory that all persons entering nightclubs and large sporting events show a pass proving that they have been vaccinated, or have tested negative for coronavirus.
Nearly 100 Conservative lawmakers rebelled in December against the impositions of vaccine certification restrictions. Just before Christmas, Johnson did nothing to tighten restrictions despite scientists’ concerns about the Omicron variant’s skyrocketing incidence and the pressure on the health system.
The Plan B measures are due to expire Jan. 26. Johnson could announce a relaxation this week to deflect attention from the Downing Street scandal. Johnson would be taking a huge risk if he tried to extend the restrictions at a time when his leadership was already under threat.
Although the number of cases in Britain is still high, they have fallen 38.9 percent over the past seven days when compared with the previous week. Downing Street claimed that 17,000 people were still in England’s hospitals, but daily admissions to Covid patients in the UK have started to decline after reaching their peak on Jan. 9, according Oxford University’s Our World in Data project. According to a New York Times database, the average daily death rate, which is higher than cases, is 264. This represents a 107 percent increase in two weeks.
Source: NY Times