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Lawmakers mull Plan B rules

By EARLE GALE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-12-15 09:20

A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gesturing as he speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons in London on Dec 8, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

UK prime minister's proposals likely to be approved despite internal revolt

Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a mini revolt in the United Kingdom Parliament on Tuesday, as some lawmakers from his ruling Conservative Party pushed back at restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.

With The Guardian newspaper saying before the three votes on the proposed measures that around 80 Conservative Party members of Parliament planned to oppose, it was always going to be an unpleasant experience for Johnson.

But, with a large majority and support from other parties, victory for Johnson was never in doubt. The BBC said, however, the dissent from his own ranks will have sent Johnson a message that additional restrictions will likely not be tolerated.

The prime minister insisted before the votes that his so-called Plan B restrictions, which include virus passports for large events, more mask-wearing in public, and advice to work from home when possible, were "balanced and proportionate" to the risk posed by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

The Guardian quoted Health Secretary Sajid Javid as saying they are far less strict than measures throughout much of Europe.

With the UK recording its first Omicron death on Monday, Javid told lawmakers the variant is now infecting 200,000 people a day in the UK and will become the dominant strain in London before the end of the week. In the face of the threat, the National Health Service has declared the variant a "national incident", ensuring central coordination of the emergency response.

With the UK Health Security Agency saying 10 people were in UK hospitals because of the variant as of Tuesday morning, experts expect the number of hospitalizations and deaths to rise quickly in the coming days.

But, despite the challenge posed by the variant, the call for virus passports was controversial among some Conservative Party lawmakers, who said they were draconian.

Conservative Party member of Parliament Marcus Fysh told the BBC the idea was "the thin end of an authoritarian wedge".

But Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab hit back, telling Radio 4's Today program that vaccine passports and other Plan B measures mean "we go into this Christmas in a very different position to last year", when there was a lockdown.

In another interview on Times Radio, he said: "I think people can look forward to spending Christmas with loved ones in a way that we couldn't last year."

He insisted in an interview with Sky News the government will not be introducing additional restrictions before the festive break.

Raab said London is instead focusing on existing restrictions, and its booster campaign, which aims to deliver 1 million jabs a day to people who are double-jabbed.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Omicron variant is also starting to dominate.

The Financial Times said it will become the dominant strain in Denmark this week, where there are record numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Soren Riis Paludan, a professor of biomedicine at Aarhus University, told the paper: "Denmark is a front-runner here. We were one of the first countries to have initial spreading domestically, but other countries in Europe will see the same."

The highly infectious variant is also set to become dominant in Norway before Christmas, where health authorities say it will soon infect 300,000 people a day, up from the previous strain's record of 1,000 a day.

Cases are also skyrocketing in Switzerland, which has Western Europe's worst vaccination rate.

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