LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he would take more steps to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant if needed, after the Netherlands began a fourth lockdown and as other European nations consider Christmas restrictions.
Speaking after UK media reported Britain might impose new curbs after Christmas, Johnson said the situation was “extremely difficult” and hospitalisations were rising steeply in London.
“I have to say to the British public, and I say to everybody, we will not exclude the possibility of going further if we have to do things to protect the public,” Johnson said after a cabinet meeting.
Omicron infections are multiplying rapidly across Europe and the United States, doubling every two or three days in London and elsewhere and taking a heavy toll on financial markets, which fear the impact on the global economic recovery.
The variant was first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong and so far been reported in at least 89 countries. The severity of illness it causes remains unclear.
Any decision to limit how people can celebrate Christmas would come at a high political cost for Johnson, whose authority has been eroded by questions over whether he and his staff broke lockdown rules last year.
Asked about speculation that the government would ban indoor socialising and limit tourism, Johnson said: “I can certainly say we’re looking at all kinds of things...to keep Omicron under control, and we will rule nothing out.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced a shutdown on Saturday, ordering the closure of all but essential stores, as well as restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, museums and other public places from Sunday until at least Jan. 14.
Germany plans to limit private gatherings from Dec. 28 to a maximum of 10 people who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, according to a draft of proposed steps. The document also said access to restaurants would remain limited to people who could provide proof of vaccination or recovery.
Ireland on Friday ordered bars and restaurants to close at 8 p.m. and reduced the capacity in all public events. Italy is also considering new measures, newspapers reported on Sunday.
Coronavirus cases surged in New York City and around the United States over the weekend, dashing hopes for a more normal holiday season and stretching the country’s testing infrastructure - just days before many families gather to celebrate Christmas.
In Washington DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser said the city would reinstate an indoor mask mandate beginning Tuesday and running until the morning of Jan. 31. All employees, contractors and grantees of the District of Columbia government must be fully COVID-19 vaccinated and have a booster shot, she said.