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Shoppers, some wearing face coverings to combat the spread of COVID-19, walk past stalls and shops in the Apple Market in Covent Garden on the last Saturday for shopping before Christmas, in central London on December 18, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

London: Twelve people have died with the Omicron variant of the COVID-19, and 104 are currently in hospital with it, Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Times Radio on Monday.

Raab said also said he couldn’t make any guarantees when asked whether the government would impose further restrictions before Christmas to control the spread of COVID-19.

“I just can’t make hard and fast guarantees,” Raab told Sky News, stressing that ministers would continue to review the latest available data.

On Sunday, health minister declined to rule out the chance of further COVID-19 restrictions before Christmas, saying the spread of the Omicron variant was a very fast moving situation.

Britain has reported a surge in Omicron cases, which government advisers said could be just the tip of the iceberg.

On Saturday, London’s mayor declared a “major incident” to help the city’s hospitals cope.

Asked whether he could rule out new restrictions before Christmas, health minister Sajid Javid told BBC Television: “We are assessing the situation, it is very fast moving.” “There are no guarantees in this pandemic I don’t think. 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.

He said there was a still a lot that is not known about Omicron but waiting until data is clearer may leave it too late to react to it.

Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay held a meeting of the government’s emergency committee on Sunday to discuss the situation with the UK’s devolved administrations and agreed to increase their funding to tackle the spread of Omicron.

“They agreed to continue to monitor the emerging data over the coming days, working closely with businesses and public agencies across the UK to understand the impact on industry and services,” a Cabinet Office spokesperson said.

More than 100 of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative lawmakers voted against the government’s latest measures to tackle the spread of COVID-19 earlier this week and Johnson is facing the biggest crisis of his premiership after a litany of scandals and missteps.

Asked if Johnson was too weak to bring in further curbs, Javid said: “No ... if the government felt that further action had to be taken of course we would present that to parliament and it would be for parliament to decide.” The number of confirmed Omicron cases recorded across the country was 37,101 as of 1800 GMT on December 18, the UK Health Security Agency said on Sunday, up by more than 12,000 cases from 24 hours earlier. Twelve people believed to have had the Omicron variant had died as of Friday.

Javid said the actual number of Omicron infections was likely to be a lot higher.

The number of all new COVID-19 cases reported in official data on Sunday was 82,886, up 51.9% over the seven days to December 19 compared with the previous week.

Javid said the government believed about 60% of new COVID-19 cases in England were now Omicron.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he thought new restrictions were inevitable otherwise the health service would be on the verge of collapse under the joint pressures of staff shortages and increased hospitalisations.