By Andrew MacAskill
LONDON, Jan 18 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet with his Cabinet on Wednesday to review restrictions to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in England as he seeks to move attention away from parties held at his residence during coronavirus lockdowns.
The restrictions, known as “Plan B” measures, were introduced by the government last month as the Omicron strain spread rapidly across Britain. They included guidance to work from home where possible, masks for indoor settings and vaccine passports for mass events.
Johnson will address parliament on Wednesday and hopes to reset his agenda following criticisms after he admitted he attended a gathering in the garden of his Downing Street office and residence in May 2020 while social mixing was banned.
He has apologised for attending, but the growing reports of alcohol-fuelled gatherings at the heart of government have prompted calls for his resignation, including from some in his governing Conservative Party.
In a clear indication that some or all of the recent restrictions will be removed, health minister Sajid Javid said on Tuesday he was optimistic that measures can be scaled back next week as cases and hospitalisations look to have peaked.
“Decisions on the next steps remain finely balanced,” a government spokesperson said. “The Omicron variant continues to pose a significant threat and the pandemic is not over. Infections remain high but the latest data is encouraging, with cases beginning to fall.”
Coronavirus case numbers have fallen in all regions in England in the past few weeks. On Tuesday, 94,432 cases were recorded across Britain, down from a record 218,724 cases two weeks ago.
The current Plan B measures have a clause that will see them expire on Jan. 26. If Johnson wants to renew them, a new vote in parliament would be needed to extend them beyond that date.
The removal of the restrictions would please many in his party who want to return to something akin to normal life. (Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Sandra Maler)