Boris Johnson will face scrutiny over his hope to “ride out” the wave of Omicron without further restrictions despite the NHS coming under significant strain from coronavirus. 

The Prime Minister will argue to his Cabinet on Wednesday they should stick by the Plan B measures in England as he accepted parts of the health service will feel “temporarily overwhelmed”. 

With Wales having introduced tougher restrictions on mass gatherings and closing parts of the economy it means there is likely to continue to be a significant difference in the approaches taken either side of the border.  

But how long Wales can afford to continue to support a restricted economy is likely to be called into question. The prime minister's intention to avoid further restrictions makes the prospect of further financial support for Wales less likely. 

First minister Mark Drakeford had accused the Westminster government of being in a state of paralysis over the refusal, before Christmas, to consider tightened restrictions as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have done. 

READ MORE:  First minister hits out at lack of Treasury support

And the Welsh Labour leader has also been clear his government doesn't have the financial resources to run a furlough scheme, which had been funded by Westminster. 

He has complained support is dependent on whether UK ministers determine additional measures are needed in England. 

Without a furlough scheme the Welsh Government has said it will make money available to support businesses, though concerns have been expressed over whether sufficient sums will be on offer. There is also no direct support available to employees. 

READ MORE: Welsh Government should be able to launch furlough says report

But Johnson's indication last night that he wants to see out the coming weeks, as Omicron causes increased pressure on the NHS, without restrictions has likely signaled there is no prospect of the furlough scheme being restarted - or of any additional financial support for Wales. 

The hospitality industry in Wales, which has seen nightclubs forced to close, and restrictions on indoor gatherings and the size of groups socialising together, has warned of significant losses due to the new measures in Wales. 

Today there are also reports that Wales’ Six Nations rugby matches could be played in England if rules banning spectators in Wales remain in place. Ireland, Scotland and France also have restrictions on crowds. 

But the prospect of many thousands of Welsh fans making return journeys to England for Wales matches would pose a further conundrum for the Welsh Government. Fans of Wales’ professional football clubs in the English leagues are currently able to attend away games in England while their own home matches must be played behind closed doors. 

At present it is not known if crowd restrictions will still be in place in Wales when the Principality Stadium, Cardiff is due to host its first game on February 12. 

A record 218,724 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were announced in England and Scotland on Tuesday, though the figure will have been inflated by delayed reporting over the holiday period.

In Wales the latest figures, published yesterday and covering the period from December 31 to January 2, showed there were more than 22,000 new confirmed cases.

Welsh ministers are reviewing restrictions on a weekly basis with any announcements expected late Thursday or Friday. 

Johnson confirmed he would stick with England’s 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. 

He is likely to be questioned on the decision by opposition leader at Prime Minister’s Questions today. Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has tested positive for coronavirus and deputy leader, Angela Rayner, will step in

The prime minister could also face possible challenges from Tory MPs critical of restrictions and heightened concerns of staffing shortages. 

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” as 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. 

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

The Senedd remains closed for its Christmas holiday. 

Additional reporting: Sam Blewett, PA Deputy Political Editor

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