UK cabinet to meet as pressure for new Covid restrictions grows

Record levels of coronavirus cases and 12 Omicron-related deaths reported in Britain

Britain's cabinet will meet later on Monday as pressure grows on UK prime minister Boris Johnson to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant with a tightening of social restrictions before Christmas.

Britain has reported record levels of Covid-19 cases, with officials and ministers warning that the full effects of the latest wave are still yet to be seen.

The Sun newspaper and the BBC both reported that the cabinet was due to meet at 2pm.

Omicron, first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong, has raced around the globe and so far been reported in at least 89 countries. It is known to be highly transmissible, but the severity of illness it causes remains unclear.

Twelve people in Britain have so far died with the Omicron variant and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab said that 104 people were currently in hospital with it.

Officials warned last week that hospitalisations could hit new highs as the effects of the latest surge work their way through the population.

Asked whether the government would impose further restrictions before Christmas, Mr Raab told Times Radio: “I just can’t make hard and fast guarantees.

“In assessing the situation we rely very heavily on the real data coming through and it will take a little bit more time to assess this critical issue of the severity of Omicron.”

Any decision to limit how people can celebrate Christmas would come at a high political cost for Mr Johnson, whose authority has been undermined by questions over whether he and his staff broke lockdown rules last year.

Mr Johnson also suffered a huge rebellion in parliament last week as lawmakers from his own Conservative party pushed back hard against a tightening of Covid-19 rules.

To pass the new rules, which included ordering people to wear masks in public places, Mr Johnson had to rely on the support of the main opposition Labour Party.

On Monday, UK Labour leader Keir Starmer called on Mr Johnson to set aside infighting and come up with a plan to tackle the rising cases. "What I want to see is a government, a prime minister, that gets a grip and puts a plan forward that hopefully we can all get behind," Mr Starmer told reporters. – Reuters

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