Boris Johnson has been forced to introduce social restrictions to combat the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus but the rocketing infection numbers we saw over the New Year appear to be beginning to wane.
The prime minister brought back mandatory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops, cinemas, theatres and places of worship in December, asked citizens to work from home where possible and made an NHS Covid Pass or negative lateral flow test a necessary requirement for entry to crowded venues and events involving mass gatherings.
However, Mr Johnson stuck to his guns and refused to impose tighter restrictions in England despite pressure from his scientific advisers to do so in response to the record-breaking rate of infection we saw in the first days of 2022, insisting on Monday 3 January that the “Plan B” measures in place remained the “right” course of action, adding: “The way forward for the country as a whole is to continue with the path that we’re on.
“We’ll keep everything on the review course we keep all measures under review, but the mixture of things that we’re doing at the moment is I think, the right one.”
The PM reiterated his hope that Britain would be able to “ride out” the assault from Omicron without further measures in a press conference from Downing Street the following Tuesday evening.
That strategy, backed by senior Cabinet ministers keen to safeguard the economy, appears to have paid off, given that the high case numbers failed to translate into the feared wave of mass hospitalisations that could have overwhelmed the NHS.
That said, at least 24 hospital trusts did report suffering “critical incidents” of staff shortages, leading to non-urgent treatments having to be postponed to cope with the crisis.
But overall, the Omicron strain, though highly transmissable, has proven to have a less severe impact on individuals than earlier variants of the virus, with the government’s tactic of encouraging adults to get vaccine booster jabs as a matter of urgency paying off.
Mr Johnson now appears to be preparing to pivot to a “living with Covid” agenda in the longer term.
The prime minister, meanwhile dogged by calls for his resignation over the still-unresolved “Partygate” scandal, is expected to give an update on the pandemic on Wednesday and is widely tipped to announce that the current restrictions will be reduced or curtailed after their present expiry date of Wednesday 26 January.
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