PM faces scrutiny over plan to 'ride out' Omicron wave amid NHS pressures

5 January 2022, 00:39 | Updated: 5 January 2022, 09:42

Boris Johnson will face Cabinet and PMQs on Wednesday
Boris Johnson will face Cabinet and PMQs on Wednesday. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Boris Johnson will be scrutinised by ministers and MPs later over his plan to "ride out" Omicron without further restrictions as the NHS comes under significant pressure.

The PM will meet with Cabinet members on Wednesday, while he will also face Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister's Questions and possible challenges from Tory MPs critical of restrictions.

He will argue England should stick to Plan B measures despite accepting parts of the health service will feel "temporarily overwhelmed".

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NHS trusts have declared critical incidents with hospitals in Greater Manchester saying they will pause some "non-urgent" surgery over the "rising impact" of Covid-19 and staffing shortages.

On Tuesday evening, government sources did not deny reports suggesting testing rules will be relaxed to reduce staff absences, though the timing of the announcement was unclear.

The Telegraph said a change so that millions who test positive in lateral flow tests will not need a confirmatory PCR could come on Wednesday.

A record 218,724 lab-confirmed Covid cases were announced in England and Scotland on Tuesday, though the figure will have been inflated by delayed reporting over the holiday period.

Mr Johnson confirmed he would stick with the Plan B measures including work-from-home guidance, mask-wearing and Covid health passes ahead of Wednesday's review of the regulations scheduled to expire on January 26.

At a Downing Street press conference, he argued the booster roll-out has given substantial protection and added: "So together with the Plan B measures that we introduced before Christmas we have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again."

Mr Johnson accepted the weeks ahead are going to be "challenging" and said "some services will be disrupted by staff absences".

He pledged to "fortify" the NHS to withstand the pressures and protect supply chains.

Under the measures, he said 100,000 "critical workers" including those in transport, policing and food distribution will get lateral flow tests on every working day starting on Monday.

The Prime Minister added: "I would say we have a good chance of getting through the Omicron wave without the need for further restrictions and without the need certainly for a lockdown."

But he accepted the NHS was moving to a "war footing" as he acknowledged the health service is under "huge pressure" while hospital admissions are "high".

Mr Johnson's administration in Westminster has stuck with the Plan B restrictions, announced four weeks ago, despite tougher restrictions being in other UK nations.

A ministerial statement is also expected in the Commons on Wednesday, though it was unclear whether Mr Johnson will deliver this himself or it will be done by another minister.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will update the Scottish Parliament on the pandemic in the afternoon.