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Johnson from UK walks a tightrope between politics and COVID outbreak


LONDON (AP) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks a political tightrope as he faces increasing attacks from friends and foes amid rising COVID-19 infections.

For the second winter in a row, Johnson is betting that vaccines will be his savior, urging everyone to get vaccinated to slow the spread of the new omicron variant, in hopes of avoiding politically unpleasant new restrictions on business activities and social.

The threat to Johnson and his Conservative Party was glaring last week as the Prime Minister moved from one political crisis to another.

Johnson faced the biggest parliamentary rebellion of his tenure on Tuesday as 97 Tories voted against the new COVID-19 restrictions. Two days later, he suffered a stinging by-election defeat in a normally safe conservative area amid anger over reports that government workers organized Christmas parties last year as the country was in lock-out. Then on Saturday, one of his staunchest allies resigned from his cabinet, citing unease over the new coronavirus rules.

While Johnson’s policy of curbing COVID-19 infections is sound, he will face increasing pressure from all wings of his party to change course, said Giles Wilkes, senior researcher at the Institute no. government supporter. The challenge is to ignore political noise and base policy on science, said Wilkes, a former adviser to the prime minister’s predecessor, Theresa May.

“The political spasms of the past month could mark a historic turning point in the history of this administration,” said Wilkes, highlighting the crucial decisions of former prime ministers John Major and Gordon Brown that ultimately undermined their position with voters. “These are not happy comparisons for the Prime Minister to consider. “

British newspapers on Sunday were filled with articles on potential candidates for the Prime Minister’s office, including Treasury Secretary Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The pressure on Johnson is being fueled by the highly transmissible variant of omicron, which has pushed UK COVID-19 infections to record levels in recent days. This has once again fueled concerns that UK hospitals will be overwhelmed this winter.

In response, Johnson ordered the National Health Service to step up its immunization schedule a week ago, promising everyone 18 and over would be offered a booster this month. But he also introduced legislation requiring people to wear face masks in stores and show that they have been doubly vaccinated or have had a negative COVID-19 test to enter overcrowded places like boxes. by night.

The results of the British vaccination program have been impressive, with the number of boosters given rising to more than 900,000 on Saturday from 550,000 a week earlier. Some vaccination centers remain open 24 hours a day to provide easier access for shift workers.

But the new restrictions have sparked howls from the libertarian wing of Johnson’s party, who say they were unnecessary and forerunners of new limits on personal freedoms. In the face of this opposition, Johnson had to rely on votes from the opposition Labor Party to approve the use of COVID-19 health passports.

Now, government science advisers are recommending Johnson go further. Limits on social interactions and a return to social distancing are needed to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, according to the leaked minutes of a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

Tobias Ellwood, one of the Tory rebels, criticized the government’s ‘off the bus, on the bus’ approach to tackling the pandemic, saying the country needs consistency.

“We need it almost like a warlord, we need a strong No 10 and the No 10 machinery around Boris Johnson. This is what needs to be improved, ”he told Times Radio. “Boosterism, energy, is not enough under the current circumstances.”

Meanwhile, Labor leaders say the partygate scandal has undermined public confidence in the Conservative government. It will be difficult for Johnson to impose further restrictions on coronaviruses as government offices violated their own rules last year.

Government ministers met with leaders of the governments of Scotland and Wales on Sunday to discuss ‘common challenges, including economic disruption caused by COVID’. The meeting was chaired by Cabinet Minister Steve Barclay, not the Prime Minister.

“He hides from his own backbenchers instead of leading,” Wes Streeting, Labor spokesman for health issues, told Sky News. “And that kind of weakness instead of leadership should really be about the public, because I think people know action is needed.”

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Follow all of AP’s stories about the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

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