British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that he would not impose new COVID-19 restrictions in England before Christmas, but that the situation remained extremely difficult and that the government may have to act later.
Over the last week, Britain has reported record levels of COVID-19 cases as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads, and hospitalizations are also on the rise.
On Monday, Johnson met with his cabinet for more than two hours to discuss the most recent COVID-19 data. Several ministers, according to media reports, have pushed back against the prospect of new curbs before Christmas, despite warnings from some scientists.
"We don't think today that there is enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before Christmas," Johnson said in a video posted on social media.
Uncertainty remained about how likely people were to require hospital treatment after being infected with Omicron, compared to previous variants, as well as the impact of vaccine booster doses, which are being rolled out quickly.
"We can't rule out any further measures after Christmas," Johnson added. "We continue to monitor Omicron very closely and if the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed."
More restrictions are unpopular among Conservative lawmakers, with more than 100 voting against the implementation of new COVID-19 rules last week, leaving Johnson reliant on the opposition Labour Party.
Previously, British media reported that temporary curbs lasting between two weeks and a month were more likely to be implemented in England after Christmas. These could include prohibiting households from mixing indoors and limiting the number of people who can meet outside.
Earlier on Tuesday, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced post-Christmas restrictions on large-scale events in Scotland, including the cancellation of public New Year's Eve celebrations and the restriction of bars and restaurants to table service.
While people could go ahead with their Christmas plans, Johnson urged them to exercise caution and follow advice such as keeping windows open and taking a test before visiting elderly or vulnerable relatives.