(CN) — Despite massive waves of new coronavirus cases in both France and England, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron are opting to not impose strict curbs and lockdowns.
Both leaders are politically vulnerable and eager to please businesses and win public support by not shutting down society. In doing so, they seem to be gambling on the possibility that the extremely fast-spreading omicron strain may be milder, according to early studies.
On Monday, both governments laid out their strategies in the onslaught of record numbers of infections. While Macron set in motion a series of new tailored restrictions, Johnson chose to not impose any new curbs.
Macron is up for reelection in April and he faces a challenge from far-right politicians Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour who are opposed to tough Covid restrictions as well as the health passes needed to access businesses and public places. Johnson, meanwhile, has found himself dropping in polls and facing a mutiny inside his Conservative Party over the recent introduction of a health pass to enter large venues, such as soccer matches and nightclubs.
On Christmas Day, France recorded for the first time in the pandemic more than 100,000 new coronavirus cases.
England, meanwhile, registered a new high with more than 113,600 cases on Christmas Day and 98,515 cases on Boxing Day. The U.K. as a whole has seen the number of daily cases rise from about 43,000 on average at the start of December to more than 108,000. Testing and data have been delayed by the Christmas weekend.
Despite the huge number of newly detected infections, this coronavirus-stricken winter has so far proven to be less severe in Europe than last year thanks to mass vaccination campaigns and a possibility that the omicron strain may be milder than other variants. Studies from South Africa, where the strain was first identified in November, Hong Kong and the U.K. have found omicron causes less severe symptoms though it spreads even faster than the delta strain, which became the dominant strain this year after it emerged in India in late 2020.
The number of people needing hospitalization and who are dying from Covid-19 is far lower in most countries than a year ago when most of Europe was in a lockdown and recording staggering death tolls.
On Monday, disregarding the warnings of some scientists, Johnson chose to not add new restrictions in England and allowed mass events, such as nightclubs and soccer matches, to carry on uninterrupted.
“We will continue to monitor the data carefully, but there will be no new restrictions introduced in England before the New Year,” Johnson said after an emergency meeting with cabinet members and scientific advisers.
“However, I would urge everyone to continue to act cautiously given the rising number of omicron cases,” he added in a tweet. “Most importantly I urge everyone to get their first, second or booster jab without delay to protect yourselves and your loved ones.”
Johnson's reluctance to take a tough stance comes as he faces mounting anger within his Tory party over legislation passed two weeks ago that makes it a vaccine pass mandatory to enter large venues, such as sports stadiums and concerts, in England.
By contrast, the regional governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have imposed much stricter curbs, such as limiting indoor gatherings, closing nightclubs and canceling mass events.
It's a risky wager for Johnson, but politically he may hope to win back his party's support.
“Mr. Johnson will hope he gets some credit as revelers in England party on New Year’s Eve, amid a series of dire polls that suggest he is currently en route to election defeat,” wrote Arj Singh, the deputy political editor for inews, a national newspaper. “Mr. Johnson will be hoping that his roll of the dice can at least start to win back favor in a mutinous Tory Party.”