Betting Omicron has peaked, British PM Johnson set to lift COVID rules

  • World
  • Wednesday, 19 Jan 2022

FILE PHOTO: People socially distance as they walk across Wandsworth Bridge amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London, Britain, January 10, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to end most COVID-19 measures introduced to curb the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in England as he looks to live with the virus and fully reopen the economy after an apparent peak in cases.

Britain was the first country to limit international travel over the Omicron variant, raising alarm bells about its mutations, and in December introduced work at home advice, more mask-wearing and vaccine passes to slow its spread.

But while cases soared to record highs, hospitalisations and deaths have not risen by the same extent, in part due to Britain's booster rollout and the variant's lesser severity.

Health minister Sajid Javid said on Tuesday Britain had likely reached the peak in both cases and hospitalisations, with the so-called Plan B measures due to expire in a week.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to substantially reduce measures next week," Javid said in parliament.

Johnson will address parliament on Wednesday on next steps for Plan B and hopes to reset his agenda following furore over the lockdown gatherings at his office, which has some in his party plotting to remove him.

Johnson admitted he attended a gathering in the garden of his Downing Street office and residence in May 2020 while social mixing was banned.

The lifting of Plan B measures, along with Johnson's navigation of Omicron without resorting to stringent lockdown, could help him appease vocal opponents of restrictions in his own party amid the party unrest.

"Decisions on the next steps remain finely balanced," a government spokesperson said.

"The Omicron variant continues to pose a significant threat and the pandemic is not over. Infections remain high but the latest data is encouraging, with cases beginning to fall."

Johnson has faced criticism for his handling of the pandemic overall, and Britain has reported 152,513 deaths, the seventh highest total globally.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout and Andrew MacAskill; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

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