For Johnson, political reprimand as Omicron variant engulfs Britain

But while the political climate remains volatile, most voters are more concerned about the effect of the Omicron variant as they prepare for the holiday season. Scientists said it was too early to tell if the variant was less severe than previous ones, but warned that even if it was, it wouldn’t necessarily prevent a rapid increase in hospitalizations, given the huge number of infections.

“If you have enough cases per day, the number of hospitalizations could pose big challenges for any hospital system,” said Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, whose chilling projections on the virus prompted Mr. Johnson to impose his first lockdown. in March 2020.

Ms Rutter said Mr Johnson could still come out unscathed if the variant is milder than expected, hospitals are not overwhelmed and the recall program is effective. Earlier this year, his fortunes recovered when Britain’s vaccination rollout was swift and efficient, allowing him to lift all restrictions in July.

However, by weakening Mr Johnson’s position, defeat in North Shropshire also risks emboldening rivals, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Any resulting tension within the cabinet risks further eroding Mr Johnson’s authority.

All of this is a dangerous recipe for a prime minister who could find himself forced to return to parliament to approve new restrictions.

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