Scotland axes New Year's Eve party over Covid while England holds fire

·2-min read
The event normally takes place in the gardens and the main street below Edinburgh Castle (AFP/Odd ANDERSEN)

Edinburgh's New Year's Eve street party has been cancelled due to surging Covid cases, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced Tuesday, just as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said England would see no new pre-Christmas curbs.

Tens of thousands of revellers from around the world typically descend on the Scottish capital on December 31 for the Hogmanay celebrations, which are marked by live music and fireworks above Edinburgh Castle.

But for the second successive year the festivities have been axed, as Scotland and the rest of Britain grapple with spiralling coronavirus infections driven by the Omicron variant.

Britain reported another 90,629 cases on Tuesday as the new strain rages and hospitalisation rates in London climb, but uncertainty remains over the extent of its severity and ability to evade vaccines.

Daily case rates have broken records several times over the last week as the country -- one of Europe's worst-hit by the virus, with more than 147,000 deaths during the pandemic -- struggles to contain Omicron.

Sturgeon told lawmakers in the devolved Scottish Parliament that crowds would be capped at 500 for outdoor public events, and 100 standing or 200 seated indoors, for at least three weeks from December 26.

The first minister, who has responsibility for health and other domestic policy areas in Scotland, added that meant live sports events including football matches will be "effectively spectator-free".

She also announced new rules on hospitality and urged people to "stay at home as much as possible" until at least the first week of January.

- 'Finely balanced' -

In London, Johnson has so far stopped short of unveiling beefed up curbs across England, where Omicron cases have increased rapidly, particularly in the capital London.

The leader, under fire in recent weeks over a host of scandals and setbacks, enacted so-called "Plan B" measures earlier this month.

They mandate mask-wearing in certain settings, advise people to home-work if possible, and also introduced a Covid pass system for large events.

Johnson said in a brief video message Tuesday that while unable to rule out new restrictions after Christmas, there was currently not "enough evidence to justify any tougher measures before".

However, he added: "If the situation deteriorates we will be ready to take action if needed," noting the situation "remains finely balanced".

Earlier, the Welsh government announced that sporting events there would be played behind closed doors from December 26.

It also emerged that officials in Wales, which has advised people to work from home if possible as virus cases rise, can now fine people for failing to do so.

Monday's change from mere guidance to a legal requirement to homeworking could see people fined £60 ($80, 70 euros) unless they can offer "a reasonable excuse".

Employers could be hit with penalties of £10,000 for repeatedly failing to allow people to work from home.

The move has provoked criticism from some, including unions, for being overly punitive.

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