UK virus curbs 'likely to ease next week'
UK health minister Sajid Javid says he is optimistic that COVID-19 measures introduced to reduce the spread of Omicron will be scaled back next week as cases and hospitalisations look to have peaked.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced so-called "Plan B" measures for England in December in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
The measures, which include advice to work from home where possible, greater mask-wearing and the use of vaccine passes, are due to be reviewed on January 26.
The government said in December the plan was designed to buy time for people to get booster shots, and also find out more about Omicron, which has proven highly transmissible but less severe than previous variants.
"I have always said that these restrictions should not stay in place a day longer than they are absolutely necessary," Javid said in parliament, adding the United Kingdom was the most boosted country in Europe and had the most COVID-19 antivirals in the continent.
"Due to these pharmaceutical defences and the likelihood that we have already reached the peak of the case numbers and hospitalisations, I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to substantially reduce measures next week."
Johnson faces the gravest crisis of his tenure after revelations about gatherings during COVID-19 lockdowns, some when people in England could not even bid farewell in person to dying relatives and the Queen was mourning her husband.
The removal of "Plan B" measures would please many in his party who want to return to something more akin to normal life.
Javid said that a third of the UK's 15 million cases had been reported since the onset of Omicron.
However, while the UK has reported 152,075 deaths from COVID-19 in total, less than 10,000 of these have been since Omicron was identified in late November.