UK cabinet to meet as pressure for new COVID restrictions grows

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

Johnson’s spokesperson said the prime minister would chair a meeting of his cabinet of senior ministers at 2 p.m. (1400 GMT) to discuss the COVID-19 situation.

“At this point we are still monitoring the data and keeping a very close eye on it,” the spokesman said when asked about the possibility of further restrictions. “We will update the public if there are any further measures required, at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Omicron has raced around the world 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.

The UK Health Security Agency said on Sunday that 12 people in Britain had died with the Omicron variant and 104 were currently in hospital with it.

Officials warned last week that hospitalisations could hit new highs as the effects of the latest surge of the COVID-19 pandemic work their way through the population.

Hospitality businesses have called for financial support as the government’s advice for people to limit social contacts in the run-up to Christmas has left pubs and restaurants largely empty during what should be one of their busiest periods.

“That is something we keep under review,” Johnson’s spokesperson said. “We’ll continue to speak to them constructively on how government can best provide ongoing support.”

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

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, Johnson had to rely on the support of the main opposition Labour Party.

On Monday, Labour leader Keir Starmer called on 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,” Starmer told reporters.

(Reporting by William James and Kylie MacLellan, editing by James Davey, Guy Faulconbridge and Mark Heinrich)

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