Beleaguered PM Johnson focuses on Omicron as he weathers scandal storm

(Update 1: adds details) By Viviana García London, Dec 21 (EFE).- British prime minister Boris Johnson has heaped his full attention onto the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic as he weathers a cacophony of questions about his leadership capabilities following a series of political scandals that have rocked his Conservative Party government. As the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant rips across the country, Johnson said on Tuesday “people could go ahead with their Christmas plans” while urging caution and not ruling out further measures after Christmas. “The situation remains extremely difficult, but I also recognise that people have been waiting to hear about whether their Christmas plans, your Christmas plans, are going to be affected,” Johnson said in a video posted on social media released by Downing street. “What I can say tonight is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas, and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data – we will do whatever it takes to protect public health. “But, in view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalisation rates or the impact of the vaccine rollout and the boosters – we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas,” he added. “And what this means is that people can go ahead with their Christmas plans, but the situation remains finely balanced and I would urge everyone to exercise caution, to keep protecting yourselves and your loved ones – especially the vulnerable – and remember to keep following the guidance.” Stuck between hardline Tories urging him to avoid drastic measures and sectors of the general public, including small business owners, demanding clarity, Johnson’s grip on the country’s top political office is being questioned. The prime minister’s political headache took another turn for the worse Monday following the publication of an image depicting him with his wife and staff members in Downing Street’s garden enjoying wine and cheese during the first lockdown in the United Kingdom in May last year. The photograph published by the Guardian shows Johnson, Carrie Johnson and two staff members sitting at a table, on which there is a bottle of wine and a cheese board. In the background, other staff members are gathered around another two tables in the garden. At the time, the UK’s lockdown rules limited social gatherings to two people outdoors. But critics on Johnson’s leadership is not just coming from the opposition but also within his own Conservative Party. Last week, nearly 100 Tory MPs voted against the government’s proposal to introduce NHS Covid passes to enter most public venues, Johnson’s biggest Tory revolt since becoming prime minister. The measure still passed with a majority of 243 thanks to Labour Party support, who also voted in favour of introducing mandatory face masks in most outdoor venues. Now, with the spike in cases reaching over 90,000 new infections per day, Johnson might have to face another rebellion before implementing new measures, aggravating the already tense political environment in the country. The opposition on Tuesday accused Johnson of prioritizing partisan interests before those of the country. Labour’s shadow health secretary said Johnson was protecting himself from his own party by not taking action to curb the spread of Omicron while Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said Johnson was causing “chaos” when the country needs clarity for families to be able to plan for the upcoming days. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced that New Year’s Eve celebrations in Trafalgar Square would be cancelled due to the rising infection rate and Queen Elizabeth II postponed her traditional Christmas trip to Sandringham. The UK reported 90,629 new infections on Tuesday and 172 deaths. EFE vg/mp/jt

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