Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid leaves his hotel to attend the final day of the annual Conservative Party conference at the Manchester Central convention complex, in Manchester, north-west England on October 2, 2019.
LONDON - Britain's health minister insisted Saturday that reimposing coronavirus restrictions in England would be "an absolute last resort" and that the country must "try to live with COVID".
Britain is among the countries in Europe hardest hit by the pandemic, registering nearly 149,000 deaths. On Friday, it counted almost 190,000 new cases, an unprecedented daily tally and up nearly 50 percent week-on-week.
The UK government, which has responsibility for health policies in England only, has so far refused to curb socialising and large events, unlike the rest of Britain.
Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have all rolled out new rules since Christmas limiting gatherings, as the Omicron variant fuels an unprecedented nationwide surge in infections.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government in London insists the data does not yet justify such measures in England, where hospital staff absences due to COVID have more than doubled in a month and field hospitals are being constructed.
"Curbs on our freedom must be an absolute last resort and the British people rightly expect us to do everything in our power to avert them," Health Secretary Sajid Javid wrote in an article the Daily Mail newspaper.
"I've been determined that we must give ourselves the best chance of living alongside the virus," he added, noting the "enormous health, social and economic costs of lockdowns".
Despite the record rise in infections, there has been a less dramatic rise in numbers admitted to hospital and intensive care units, fuelling hopes that Omicron is less severe.
"I've been working closely with the NHS, to make sure it is ready and resilient for what lies ahead," Javid vowed.
In England, the government last month mandated mask-wearing in most settings, working from home if possible and a COVID pass system for nightclubs and large events.
But it has stopped short of further measures.
Instead, it is relying on a stepped-up vaccination programme, which saw every adult offered a third dose by end-2021 and around 60 percent of the eligible population get a booster jab.