Britain’s politically besieged leader signals he might ease virus curbs.
LONDON — With Omicron cases beginning to fall, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain on Tuesday signaled possible plans to ease coronavirus restrictions in England, a move that would likely mollify critics in his restive Conservative Party at a time when he is besieged by career-threatening political scandals.
Mr. Johnson’s cabinet will meet on Wednesday morning to review the limited curbs now in place and to discuss the latest health data. The prime minister was expected to address Parliament in the afternoon, according to his office.
“Decisions on the next steps remain finely balanced,” Downing Street said in a statement, which stressed that “the Omicron variant continues to pose a significant threat and the pandemic is not over.” It urged the public to get booster shots, continuing a campaign that Mr. Johnson initiated last month.
While the statement noted that the rate of new cases remained high, “the latest data is encouraging, with cases beginning to fall.”
Downing Street did not outline what decisions Mr. Johnson was likely to announce, but the inference was an easing of restrictions. The expected shift in coronavirus policy comes as the prime minister is under intense political pressure, from both opposition lawmakers and leaders in his own party, over claims that he lied to Parliament about parties held in Downing Street during the lockdown.
Under the current rules, introduced in December under what was called “Plan B,” people in England have been urged to work from home if possible and instructed to wear face coverings in confined spaces such as public transportation.
The government also introduced a requirement for those entering nightclubs and some large sporting events to show a pass proving either that they had been vaccinated or had recently tested negative for coronavirus.
In December, nearly 100 Conservative lawmakers rebelled over the imposition of the vaccine certification restrictions. And just before Christmas Mr. Johnson did not tighten restrictions despite calls from scientists worried about skyrocketing cases of the Omicron variant and the resulting pressure on the health service.
The Plan B measures are scheduled to expire on Jan. 26. By announcing a relaxation this week, Mr. Johnson could deflect some attention from the furor over the Downing Street parties. If Mr. Johnson were to try to prolong the restrictions, he would be taking a major risk at a time when his leadership is already under threat.
Cases in Britain remain high but are down 38.9 percent in the most recent seven-day period compared to the previous week. While Downing Street said that about 17,000 people remain hospitalized in England alone, daily hospital admissions of Covid patients there have also begun to fall after peaking on Jan. 9, according to the Our World in Data project at Oxford University. But the average number of daily deaths, which lag behind cases, is up to 264, a 107 percent increase over two weeks, according to a New York Times database.