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Record Omicron infections in Britain; restrictions planned for Dec. 28

Tuesday, December 21st 2021 - 07:53 UTC
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“We are looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control and we will rule nothing out,” Johnson was quoted. “We are looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control and we will rule nothing out,” Johnson was quoted.

As Britain recorded more than half a million new infections driven by the Covid-19 now dominant Omicron variant in the past seven days, and UK neighbors imposed stricter measures including full lockdowns, Prime Minister Boris Johnson following a Monday cabinet meeting said no rules would change for now, despite the steep rise in cases “hour by hour”.

However the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies modelers warned that without stricter measures, Britain by the end of the month could be facing new infections to the rate of 600.000 to two million cases a day.

Hospitalizations could peak at 3,000 to 10,000 a day in coming weeks, up from the 900 daily admissions now. Deaths could climb to 600 to 6,000 a day, compared with the 100 or so on average now.

In the midst of the holiday season, the government advisers said, large indoor gatherings pose a high risk of seeding “multiple spreading events.”

So there was surprise in some circles that Monday’s cabinet meeting concluded without any new policy announcements.

“We are looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control and we will rule nothing out,” Johnson was quoted.

“We agreed that the situation is extremely difficult and the arguments either way are very, very finely balanced,” Johnson said after the meeting, adding that the government would “reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public.”

But despite PM Johnson's statement, Buckingham Palace is taking no risks, and informed that the Queen has cancelled her traditional Christmas in Sandringham in Norfolk, amid concerns about the rising levels of the Omicron variant.

Instead she will stay in Windsor where she will be joined by members of the Royal Family.

Buckingham Palace aides described it as a personal decision and “reflects a precautionary approach”.

It is the second year the pandemic has caused the cancellation of the Queen's Christmas trip to Sandringham.

Last week the Queen announced that she would not be going ahead with her family pre-Christmas lunch. That was also in response to worries about the spread of the new Covid variant.

Meanwhile, Johnson finds himself at the center of a continuing scandal, having to defend himself and his staff against allegations that they flouted lockdown rules on multiple occasions last year.

The Guardian newspaper on Sunday published a photograph depicting a “wine-and-cheese party” in the garden of Downing Street. Half-empty bottles and glasses can clearly be seen — and so can Johnson and wife Carrie, alongside 17 other attendees.

The Guardian reported that the outdoor affair took place on May 15, 2020, when gatherings of more than two people were banned in outdoor public places.

A spokesman for Downing Street said that no lockdown rules were broken, that the garden was a private and not a public space, and that this was not a party but a “work meeting” that was deemed “essential.”

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told the BBC: “I know how hard that Number 10 team were working, as the hub, the fulcrum of the crisis response. I think there’s a lot of exhausted people, and they, as people do in work, were having a drink after the formal business had been done.”

The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, called Raab’s claim “a stretch” and reminded the country that in May 2020 many people who followed the rules were unable to attend funerals of loved ones.

During the weekend, London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared an emergency based on projections that so many essential workers will become infected and need to isolate that health and security services could be threatened.

The Natural History Museum in London announced that it was temporarily shutting down because of staff shortages caused by infections and isolation rules. Up north, ScotRail canceled 118 trains on Monday morning because of illness.

Half of London’s top West End theaters canceled performances due to Covid cases in cast and crew, including big-ticket plays such as “Hamilton,” “Matilda,” “Wicked,” “The Lion King” and “Cinderella.”

British media said ministers had pushed back against the prospect of new restrictions before Christmas and that curbs, lasting between two weeks and a month, were now more likely to be introduced after, possibly from Dec. 28.

The Times and other media outlets 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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