Boris Johnson said on Tuesday he believes Britain can weather the Omicron wave of coronavirus infections without having to “shut down our country again”, providing a boost in the new year. for business operations.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that hospitals were in a state of “war”, but he said that a combination of Britain’s existing Covid-19 restrictions and a ramped up vaccination campaign would keep the economy in check. economy open.
The prime minister’s upbeat mood reassured Conservative MPs, who opposed any further restrictions to tackle the coronavirus variant Omicron.
Johnson said a press conference in Downing Street: “I would say we have a very good chance of getting through the Omicron wave without further restrictions and certainly without the need for a lockdown.”
But he said people would be “profoundly wrong” to think the battle with Covid was over, adding that some hospitals were feeling “at least temporarily overwhelmed”.
He confirmed a record of nearly 219,000 cases of Covid-19 across the UK for the most recent 24-hour period, although the figures partly reflect delays in data collating over the Christmas holiday period.
Johnson also announced that about 100,000 critical workers, including those in food processing, transportation and border control, will be given daily Covid tests to limit the spread of the coronavirus. peers.
At least six NHS trust hospitals in the UK have reported a major incident in recent days in response to the stress of growing staff shortages and rising Covid hospitalizations.
Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust and Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Wiltshire are among those affected.
Johnson’s cabinet on Wednesday is expected to endorse his suggestion that Britain continue with the so-called Plan B restrictions: work-from-home guidelines, wearing face masks in public places. plus and Covid cards for major events.
His stance would avoid the possibility of a cabinet mutiny – ministers led by prime minister Rishi Sunak oppose new restrictions unless convincing new data comes to light – and the prospect about a major Tory uprising in parliament.
Nearly 100 Tory MPs voted against Johnson’s limited Covid restrictions before Christmas and some returned to Westminster on Wednesday in much better shape.
Theresa Villiers, a former cabinet minister, texted the Covid Recovery Team made up of Conservative MPs skeptical of the lockdown: “The lockdown seems to be concurrent with an improvement in the polls. Who knows?”
Although Johnson’s decision not to go beyond Plan B was partly due to fear of war with his own party, some MPs were willing to credit him for keeping Britain partially open. big at Christmas.
A former Conservative minister said: “I’m sure there are some people – in the cabinet or in the back seat – who will try to claim some glory but he is prime minister, he has made the decision in the end. determined and he was recognized.”
Other Tory MPs claim Johnson has been reluctantly forced to yield to pressure from his own side with no further restrictions, and that his leadership remains under pressure.
Even as Johnson navigates the Omicron rise, he still has to deal with a cost of living crisis and an investigation into media reports of Downing Street parties amid Covid restrictions in 2020.
Johnson admits that the Omicron wave has put pressure on the NHS; There are currently 15,000 people being treated in UK hospitals with Covid. But although the numbers are rising, they are less than half of the peak recorded in January of last year.
He said the unvaccinated were putting the NHS under stress: 90% of people in intensive care units with Covid were not receiving boosters and 60% were not getting a single shot.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said that while in London Omicron may be leveling off Among younger people, Covid has now “raised” to a more vulnerable cohort.
He added that as cases increase in the coming weeks, the NHS will be hit hard by staff shortages and the Covid testing infrastructure will be “incredibly stretched”.
In the future, Vallance said, he expects to see an annual Covid vaccination – like the flu shot – as the disease. become endemic in the community.
Additional reporting by Sebastian Payne