Saturday, January 29, 2022

UK government lifts new restrictions ahead of Christmas

LONDON ( Associated Press) – The British government said Thursday it will not impose any new restrictions on the coronavirus until Christmas, and called encouraging early studies on the severity of the omicron variant.

LONDON ( Associated Press) – The British government said Thursday it will not impose any new restrictions on the coronavirus until Christmas, and called encouraging early studies on the severity of the omicron variant.

Health Minister Sajid Javid said two studies showing that omicron carries a significantly lower risk of hospitalization than the previously dominant delta strain were “encouraging news.” But he said that “it is not yet very clear … how much this risk is mitigated.”

The UK Health Safety Agency is to release new omicron data later Thursday. This follows two studies by Imperial College London and Scottish researchers that showed that omicron patients are 20-68% less likely to need inpatient care than delta patients.

Evidence from South Africa, where this variant was first discovered, also suggests that the omicron may be milder there. The scientists emphasize that even if the results of these early studies are confirmed, any reduction in severity must be weighed against the fact that omicron spreads much faster than delta and vaccination may be better avoided.

Given these factors, the new option could still overwhelm health systems due to the sheer number of infections. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK, now dominated by the omicron, is up nearly 60% over the week. The UK Office for National Statistics on Friday estimated that about 1 in 45 people in private households in England – 1.2 million people – contracted COVID-19 in the week before December 16, the highest level in an entire pandemic.

The UK Conservative government this month reinstated rules requiring masks in stores and ordered people to show proof of vaccination or test negative for coronavirus before entering nightclubs and other crowded places in an effort to slow the spread of omicron.

Officials also urged people to get tested regularly and cut back on communication. Many in Britain have heeded this advice, leaving entertainment and hospitality businesses unstable due to what must be their busiest time of the year.

The government has offered grants and loans to support restaurants, bars, theaters and other establishments, but many say that is not enough to stop them from collapsing.

In England, the rules set by the UK government apply. Other parts of the UK – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – have introduced slightly tighter restrictions, including the closure of nightclubs.

Javid said the British government will “continue to analyze () the data, and if we need to do anything else, we will, but nothing else will happen before Christmas.”

“Despite the caution we all take, people should celebrate Christmas with their families and friends – of course, be careful,” he said.

The government hopes vaccine boosters will become a mainstay against omicron, the data show, and has set a goal to offer everyone 18 and older to get their third shot by the end of December.

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Stay tuned for Associated Press posts on the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

Jill Lawless, Associated Press




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