(Bloomberg) — Boris Johnson said the U.K. can weather a record wave of Covid-19 sweeping the country without tighter restrictions, even as he warned the National Health Service is under growing strain.
A record 218,724 new cases of the virus were reported on Tuesday, driven by the fast-spreading omicron variant, and the prime minister warned that the weeks ahead will be “challenging” for the U.K.
But he also said that the country’s booster vaccination program and the rules in place since before Christmas appear sufficient for now. “We have a good chance of getting through the omicron wave without the need for further restrictions, and certainly without the need for another lockdown,” he said.
Johnson’s government has relied on lighter-touch regulations combined with an accelerated vaccine booster program to keep the economy open through the omicron wave. The prime minister said he will recommend to his cabinet on Wednesday that the rules in place since last month, including the expanded use of face masks, should remain in place.
He also said ministers have identified 100,000 critical workers who from Jan. 10 will be able to get lateral flow tests every working day.
“The weeks ahead are going to be challenging, both here in the U.K. and across the world,” Johnson said. “There is no escaping the fact that some services will be disrupted by staff absences.”
The pressure on the NHS has been highlighted by a number of hospital trusts declaring critical incidents — an indication they may not be able to provide a full range of priority services. They’re being hit by a combination of rising Covid hospitalizations and increasing staff absences because of the virus.
Johnson is trying to strike a balance that keeps the pandemic under control while avoiding further angering his restless backbenchers who rebelled in record numbers last month when he brought in new rules including Covid passes to gain entry to night clubs and large events. A review of those rules is due tomorrow, and they expire on Jan. 26.
While hospital admissions are “rising quickly,” that isn’t yet translating into the same volume of patients in critical care as in earlier waves, Johnson said, adding that he is not ruling out further curbs if the situation changes.
Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said it’s not yet clear when the omicron wave will peak, and that infections are moving into older age groups who are more likely to be hospitalized.
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Johnson Says U.K. Can Ride Out Covid Wave Without Tighter Rules
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