Boris Johnson is expected to announce an easing of England’s coronavirus restrictions as he battles to save his premiership.
The Prime Minister and his Cabinet will examine the latest Covid-19 data on Wednesday morning before making a statement in the Commons on Wednesday afternoon.
England’s Plan B measures – which include guidance to work from home, the use of the Covid pass and mandatory mask wearing in shops and on public transport – are set to expire on January 26.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told MPs on Tuesday that he was “cautiously optimistic that we will be able to substantially reduce restrictions next week”.
No final decisions have yet been made, although any attempt to extend the restrictions beyond the cut-off date would trigger a fresh confrontation with Tory MPs, something the Prime Minister would wish to avoid as his position has already been weakened due to the row over Downing Street parties.
Asked whether restrictions would be lifted during a visit to a hospital on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “We’ve got to be careful about Covid. We’ve got to continue to remember that it’s a threat.”
A total of 19,450 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid-19 as of January 17, Government figures show.
This is down 2% week-on-week, though the total has risen slightly in the most recent two days.
A further 94,432 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the UK as of 9am on Tuesday, while a further 438 people were reported to have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the total by that measure to 152,513.
The Plan B measures were introduced to combat the wave of cases driven by the Omicron variant, with the aim of buying time to offer more booster jabs.
Reports have suggested the Government may choose to lift the most economically significant measures – working from home and the Covid pass – while keeping the requirement to wear masks.
A Government spokesman said: “Decisions on the next steps remain finely balanced.
“Plan B was implemented in December to slow the rapid spread of the extremely transmissible Omicron variant, and get more jabs in arms.
“It’s thanks to the phenomenal efforts of the NHS and many dedicated volunteers that we have now delivered over 36 million boosters to people across the UK.
“The Omicron variant continues to pose a significant threat and the pandemic is not over.
“Infections remain high but the latest data is encouraging, with cases beginning to fall. Vaccines remain our best line of defence and we urge people to come forward, to give themselves the best possible protection.”
On Tuesday, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the Omicron variant will be eased from Monday.
It means nightclub closures and the requirement for table service in hospitality will come to an end, while attendance limits on indoor events and the guidance asking people to stick to a three-household limit on indoor gatherings will be lifted.
However, some baseline coronavirus measures which were in place before the Omicron wave will remain, including wearing face coverings in public indoor settings and on public transport, as well as working from home whenever it is possible.