Written by Amy Beecham
The latest Downing Street briefing has announced no new Covid-19 restrictions for the time being, despite surging cases.
In a press conference last night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced no new restrictions in England, insisting that the country can “ride out” the Omicron wave of Covid-19 without them.
While daily confirmed infections topped 200,000 for the first time, the prime minister said the NHS was being put on “war footing” ahead of what he said will be a “difficult period”.
The current “plan B” measures in place, which were imposed on 8 December and include working from home where possible, mask wearing in most public settings and Covid passports in some venues, are currently due to run out on 28 January.
But despite insisting that high vaccination rates and public compliance with existing restrictions gave England a chance to “find a way to live with this virus” without shutting down social and economic life, Johnson warned: “Anyone who thinks our battle with Covid is over is profoundly wrong. This is a moment for the utmost caution.”
“We now have a substantial level of protection,” said the prime minister. “So, together with the plan B measures we introduced before Christmas, we have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again.
“We can keep our schools and our businesses open and we can find a way to live with this virus.”
Johnson acknowledged that the weeks ahead would be “challenging” but added: “If we all play our part in containing the spread of this virus, the disruptions we face can be far less severe than a national lockdown, with all the devastation that would bring for livelihoods and the life chances of our children.”
“There will be a difficult period for our wonderful NHS for the next few weeks because of Omicron. I just think that we have to get through it as best we possibly can.”
However, responding to the briefing, many took to social media to express their anger that the government isn’t doing enough to curb rising cases.
“We are DONE! We are overwhelmed now! Ignoring and hoping we “get through” does not reassure the 1.4 million NHS staff!” wrote one NHS nurse.
“Carers for one of our disabled members found her in a bad way and called an ambulance at 11 am today. At 8 pm, the ambulance service rang to profusely apologise that they still had no crews to attend. This is what ‘living with Covid’ means, Prime Minister,” added community charity Buckinghamshire Disability Service.
In parliament, Health Secretary Sajid Javid is expected to face tough questions on NHS staff absences, the controversial issue of masks in schools, shortages of Covid test kits, and demands from doctors and health chiefs for tougher restrictions.
In a speech, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for the government to “go further to stop Covid spreading throughout schools” and Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused the prime minister of complacency as people struggled to access Covid tests and critical incidents were being declared by hospitals across the country.
“There are serious pressures on the NHS,” he told the BBC. “The prime minister has got to be honest with the country about those pressures and even more importantly set out how he plans to address them.”
For more information about testing, vaccines and Covid-19 advice, visit the Public Health England or NHS websites.
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