UK Omicron deaths rise to 12

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Twelve people in Britain have died with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab says, refusing to rule out a tightening of social restrictions before Christmas.

Britain has reported record levels of COVID-19 cases, with officials and ministers warning that the full effects of the latest wave are still yet to be seen.

Omicron, first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong, has raced around the globe and so far been reported in at least 89 countries. It is known to be very transmissible, but the severity of illness it causes remains unclear.

In addition to the 12 deaths, Raab said 104 people were currently in hospital with Omicron. Officials warned last week that hospitalisations could hit new highs as the effects of the latest surge work their way through the population.

Asked whether the government would impose further restrictions before Christmas, Raab told Times Radio: "I just can't make hard and fast guarantees."

"In assessing the situation we rely very heavily on the real data coming through and it will take a little bit more time to assess this critical issue of the severity of Omicron."

When asked whether he could rule out new restrictions before Christmas, Health Minister Sajid Javid told BBC Television the government was assessing the situation and the new virus variant was "very fast moving".

"There are no guarantees in this pandemic. At this point, we just have to keep everything under review."

Javid said the government was watching the data on an "almost hourly basis" and listening to its scientific advisers, and would balance that against the broader impact of restrictions on things such as businesses and education.

Any decision to limit how people can celebrate Christmas would come at a high political cost for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose authority has been undermined by questions over whether he and his staff broke lockdown rules last year.

Johnson also suffered a huge rebellion in parliament last week as lawmakers from his own party pushed back hard against a tightening of COVID-19 rules.

To pass the new rules, which included ordering people to wear masks in public places, Johnson had to rely on the support of the main opposition Labour Party.

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