TRAVEL Extra money for UK's struggling hospitality sector as Christmas cancellations mount


Extra money for UK's struggling hospitality sector as Christmas cancellations mount


06:58, December 22, 2021

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with medical staff during a visit to a vaccination center. (Photo: AP)

The UK's prime minister says stronger restrictions could be needed to try to curb a rise in COVID-19 infection rates, while the country's finance minister has pledged an extra $1.32 billion to help the struggling hospitality sector.

Caught between scientific advisors advocating restrictions and a skeptical cabinet, Boris Johnson has resisted bringing in new measures before Christmas, but stated that nothing can be ruled out.

On Monday, the UK recorded 91,743 positive cases and 44 deaths. Cases of the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, stood at 8,044 in the 24-hour period.

UK media reports suggest tougher measures being considered by the government include banning indoor socializing. The Murdoch-owned Sun newspaper, generally seen as close to the Conservative government, says it expects an announcement from Johnson in the next 48 hours.

Johnson refused to be drawn on specific measures but said officials are keeping the data "under constant review."

"I must say to people we will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public and to protect public health, to protect our NHS [National Health Service]. And we won't hesitate to take that action."

The UK is currently under some limited but relatively mild restrictions. The so-called "Plan B" includes mandatory wearing of face masks in many indoor public places, working from home where possible and showing COVID certification when entering large venues such as stadiums or nightclubs.

Money for hospitality

Despite the lack of new restrictions many are following the advice of England's Chief Medical Office Chris Whitty and cancelling social events, leaving an already struggling hospitality sector in crisis.

On Tuesday, Finance minister Rishi Sunak, announced the financial for businesses hit hardest by the latest wave of the virus.

He was confident the measures would help hundreds of thousands of businesses. But he added that he would "respond proportionately and appropriately" if the government were to impose further restrictions to slow Omicron, which would further hit the economy.

London Omicron surge

Johnson said cases of the new Omicron variant were surging in London in particular.

The mayor of the UK's capital, Sadiq Khan, has called off the city's New Year's Eve celebrations for the second year running. A 'major incident' has already been declared in the city, meaning emergency services and local authorities are on high alert.

The timing of any further restrictions will be closely watched in the UK. Officials could be hesitant to bring in changes days before Christmas, which is on Saturday 25 December. A last minute u-turn by the government last year saw rules on socializing tightened and prevented large family get-togethers.

Johnson - who's been mired in a series of controversies linked to his leadership in recent weeks - will be cognizant of the political damage any tighter rules could lead to. But many scientists advising the government think tougher measures will be necessary this winter.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has called for people to avoid large gatherings this Christmas Director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom said they would lead to "increased cases, overwhelmed health systems and more deaths."

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