Boris Johnson faces old dilemma over novel variant of coronavirus – POLITICO

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LONDON – Even the Omicron coronavirus variant fails to persuade Boris Johnson to roll out his pandemic ‘plan B’.

The British Prime Minister has done a lot to restore England’s freedoms – and returning to it could be a hard sell to his party and the public as Christmas approaches.

Faced with the first worrying cases of the newly discovered variant of the coronavirus, Johnson has instead opted for a halfway house: international arrivals from a “red list” of countries will again have to be quarantined upon arrival. PCR testing for travel is back. And masks – an increasingly rare sight on UK streets – will once again be mandatory in shops and on public transport.

But it came to a halt long before the more extensive measures the government has kept in store since it loosened the majority of COVID restrictions earlier this year – including asking people to work from home and insisting on it. social distancing.

The UK government is “far from going back” to restrictions of the past, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News on Sunday. “We now know that these measures come at a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-COVID health outcomes, such as the impact on mental health for example.”

People should, Javid said, “continue with their plans as usual for Christmas – and I think it will be a great Christmas.”

Once again, Johnson, who has been criticized for the pace at which he has brought Britain in previous lockdowns but has been applauded for the speed of the vaccine’s deployment, is taking a bet.

Still, the interim steps might just be a simpler sale to the public. James Johnson, a former No 10 pollster who now runs his own operation, said the prime minister had opted for “the easiest levers to pull in terms of public compliance.”

“We know that quite a few people are supporting the return of indoor mask mandates,” the pollster said. The British government “would face more fatigue” if it tried to introduce further restrictions, he argued.

Familiar Tory Dynamics

The prime minister’s political dilemma is familiar, as evidenced by the fact that even these relatively light measures worry his own MPs.

A Tory backbench MP said he was concerned about “self-isolation in contact with the Omicron rule”, warning that there is a “danger of this taking us back to ‘pingdemic’ territory” – a reference to previous rules which saw thousands of people forced to self-isolate after being “pinged” by the National Health Service’s contract tracking app.

This resulted in staff shortages and major disruption in industries where people could not easily work from home, including supermarkets and public transport.

A second Tory MP said: “I think the rational position on this is to say, ‘we have to be careful, we have to try to find ways to limit some of the early spread of this’, but I think that we have to be slightly careful not to overcook it and get everyone into some sort of mental panic about it.

“The economy is only growing now, we are heading towards Christmas, as all the stores [and] reception desk on this. This is the time when they are making money. We have to be very careful not to be dragged along by the prophets of doom that exist, ”he added. The MP said he would have “left the shops out” with regard to the compulsory wearing of the mask.

The prime minister also disagreed with Chancellor Rishi Sunak over past restrictions. When Johnson was under pressure to put in place a short lockdown in fall 2020, Sunak was reported to have real concerns about the economic impact.

Still, scientists warn there could be problems ahead if the government lets the virus run rampant again, and the prime minister has already been prepared to change course under pressure, making 36 U-turns in 23 months, according to a POLITICO analysis.

“The NHS is already in dire straits,” Peter English, a retired communicable disease control consultant, said in comments published by the Science Media Center. “Another wave of cases could tip services overboard. “

The opposition Labor Party is already urging the government to “tighten” travel restrictions. Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said on Sunday there had been “very little action on ventilation in public buildings,” and the party is targeting Tory MPs who have avoided masks in the House of Commons. communes.

Public moods can change quickly, too, notes pollster Johnson. Around the same time last year, Kent’s so-called variant – now known as Delta – proved the public was “mature enough” to understand that COVID can change.

A very “lockdown weary” public who had started to question the lockdown measures had changed their minds “the moment this variant entered,” he said.

“I think it really depends on where the variant falls – and how many people see it as a risk,” he added.



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Edward L. Robinett