Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday was expected to announce an easing of coronavirus restrictions in England amid growing calls from outside — and inside — his party for him to resign.
Boris Johnson announced that England would lift Plan B coronavirus restrictions after claiming “our scientists believe it is likely that the omicron wave has now peaked nationally”.
People will no longer have to wear masks in closed spaces, work from home and prove vaccination to enter public spaces such as nightclubs, Johnson told parliament, attributing the changes to the success of a mass booster jab program.
In a statement to MPs in the House of Commons, the prime minister confirmed mandatory Covid passports for entering nightclubs and large events will end, though organizations can choose to use the NHS Covid pass if they wish.
The news comes as Covid infection levels are falling in most parts of the UK for the first time since early December.
The Prime Minister told MPs the Government had taken a “different path” to much of Europe and the “data are showing that, time and again, this Government got the toughest decisions right”.
The recent spike of coronavirus cases in Britain, driven by the omicron variant, may have peaked in the country, and while case numbers are still high, cabinet ministers say they are cautiously optimistic about the trends. Some ministers are talking about Britain getting ready to “live with” the virus.
Lifting restrictions is also a popular move among some Conservative lawmakers — and right now, Johnson can use all the friends he can get.
In a dramatic development on Wednesday, just moments before the weekly question and answer session in Parliament, a Conservative lawmaker, Christian Wakeford, defected to the rival Labour Party.
Johnson is struggling to move on from “partygate” — allegations that Downing Street held a string of parties over the past two years at a time when they were banned in the rest of the country because of coronavirus restrictions.
Johnson’s apology in the House of Commons last week — he admitted to attending a “bring your own booze” Downing Street garden party but said he thought it was a work event — has not quelled a growing rebellion within his Conservative Party.
Some of those backing the prime minister say they are awaiting a report into various parties by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant. She is expected to publish her findings by the end of the month.
The move to oust Johnson gained momentum on Wednesday when, according to the Daily Telegraph, 11 new lawmakers submitted letters of no confidence in Johnson. The paper said the revolt was from politicians who were elected in 2019 from northern England, where many districts voted Conservative for the first time.
To trigger a leadership challenge in the Conservative Party, 54 Conservative members of Parliament have to submit letters of no confidence to the chair of the 1922 Committee, made up of backbench party members. They don’t have to do so publicly, so it’s unclear how many letters have been submitted so far.
Johnson has gotten himself out of political scrapes before, but this one has touched a nerve with the wider British public, which holds visceral memories of lockdown and the hardship brought by the restrictions at the time. His popularity ratings have sunk to record lows.
In an interview with Sky News on Wednesday, Johnson appeared distressed and hung his head when he was asked about the two parties at Downing Street that were held on the eve of the funeral for Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband. Johnson was not at those gatherings.
“I can only renew my apologies both to Her Majesty and to the country for misjudgments that were made, and for which I take full responsibility,” he said.
Last week, Downing Street apologized to Buckingham Palace for the “deeply regrettable” events.