Johnson gives go ahead for Christmas but issues warning

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has given the go-ahead for people’s Christmas plans, although he warned tougher restrictions could be implemented after 25 December.

Mr Johnson said “continuing uncertainty” about the severity of the Omicron variant and hospital admission rates means he does not believe there is enough evidence at the moment to justify stricter measures.

But the situation remains “finely balanced” and people should “exercise caution”, Mr Johnson added.

Mr Johnson’s comments come as Scotland cancelled traditional Hogmanay celebrations and Wales announced that all sporting events will be held behind closed doors from 26 December.

A further 90,629 Covid-19 cases and 172 deaths have been recorded in the UK.

Separate figures published by the British Office for National Statistics showed there has been 173,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

In a video message released today, Mr Johnson said: “There is no doubt that Omicron continues to surge with a speed unlike anything we’ve seen before.

“The situation remains extremely difficult but I also recognise that people have been waiting to hear whether their Christmas plans are going to be affected.

“So what I can say tonight is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health.

“But in view of the continuing uncertainty about several things – the severity of Omicron, uncertainty about the hospitalisation rate or the impact of the vaccine rollout or the boosters, we don’t think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas.

“We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed.

“What this means is that people can go ahead with their Christmas plans but the situation remains finely balanced and I would urge everyone to exercise caution,” said Mr Johnson.

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Scotland cancels Hogmanay celebrations, cuts sports attendances

There will be no fireworks at Edinburgh Castle for Hogmanay this year

Scotland’s traditional Hogmanay celebrations are to be cancelled and live sports will be “effectively spectator-free” for three weeks from 26 December, as the country introduces new restrictions on public events.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that crowds at outdoor public events in Scotland will be capped at 500 from Boxing Day (St Stephen’s Day) for at least three weeks.

Numbers at indoor public events are to be limited to 100 standing or 200 seated, she said.

The move has been made to cut down transmission of the Omicron coronavirus variant and because “large events put an additional burden on emergency services”.

The restrictions do not apply to private events such as weddings.

Ms Sturgeon said: “This will of course make sports matches, including football, effectively spectator-free over this three-week period.

“And it will also mean that large-scale Hogmanay celebrations, including that planned here in our capital city, will not proceed.

“I know how disappointing this will be for those looking forward to these events, and for the organisers of them.”

Edinburgh’s streets will be quieter this New Year’s Eve

This year’s Christmas will be “more normal” than last year’s despite the newly announced restrictions, Ms Sturgeon said.

She told MSPs: “Just a few days before Christmas, I am again urging people to stay at home as much as possible, to slow down a highly infectious new variant.

“But, although it may not feel like it, we are in a much stronger position than last year.

“We have had far fewer restrictions in place for much of this year than was the case last year.

“Christmas Day will be more normal.

“Most importantly, a rapidly increasing number of adults is now protected by three doses of vaccine.”

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Sport in Wales behind closed doors over Omicron concern

All sporting events in Wales will be held behind closed doors from 26 December to help control the spread of the Omicron variant, the Welsh government has announced.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething unveiled the new measures for indoor and outdoor events and said a £3 million fund would be available to support clubs and venues affected by the loss of revenue.

“Throughout the pandemic we have followed scientific and public health advice to keep people safe,” he said in a statement.

“The advice is clear – we need to act now in response to the threat of Omicron. We are giving people as much notice of these decisions as we can.

“Crowds will come back as soon as possible. We want everyone to be here to enjoy their favourite sports.”

Cardiff’s United Rugby Championship (URC) clash with Scarlets and Wrexham’s National League football fixture against Solihull – both scheduled for 26 December – will be the first affected by the ruling.

Cardiff’s URC clash with Scarlets at the Arms Park will be played at an empty stadium

The Welsh Grand National at Chepstow will also have to be run behind closed doors despite advance ticket sales of more than 6,000.

The Championship match between Cardiff City, who play in the English Football League (EFL) with some other Welsh clubs, and Coventry has already been postponed due to a Covid outbreak in the Bluebirds’ camp, as has the URC game between the Ospreys and the Dragons.

The first EFL fixture due to be affected is Swansea’s Championship clash with Luton, which is currently scheduled for 29 December.

Cardiff said in a statement: “Cardiff City Football Club acknowledges the instruction from the Welsh government for sporting events in Wales to be played behind closed doors for a limited period of time in an effort to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

“Following the postponement of our Boxing Day fixture with Coventry City on Monday, this is set to most immediately impact our FA Cup third-round tie with Preston North End on January 9th.”

Additional reporting AFP

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