Boris Johnson says don’t cancel Christmas parties and events

Boris Johnson has urged people not to cancel their Christmas parties and events in response to Omicron.

The prime minister said that he did not want people to drop out of Christmas social events or scale back school nativity plays – and that the best way to counter the threat of the new variant was through booster jabs and border controls.

Johnson said: “We don’t want people to cancel such events. We think that overwhelmingly the best thing for kids is to be in school, as I’ve said many times throughout this pandemic.

“What we are doing is trying to take a balanced and proportionate approach to the particular risk that seems to be posed by Omicron – certainly is posed by Omicron – focused in particular on measures at the border.”

The government believes the vaccine booster programme offers the strongest defence against Omicron, with Johnson promising a “great British vaccination effort”.

“We’re going to be throwing everything at it, in order to ensure that everyone eligible is offered that booster in just over two months,” he said.

Tighter testing requirements for international travel and the return of self-isolation for contacts of confirmed Omicron cases came into force on Tuesday (30 November), along with the mandatory wearing of face coverings in shops and on public transport.

The prime minister added that he was not ruling out a move to the winter Plan B, which would include the introduction of vaccine passports and an order to work from home, but said it was not necessary at this point.

Johnson’s advice contradicts leading scientists and one of his most senior health officials.

UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries suggested on Monday that people should reduce their social contact over the next few weeks amid fears that vaccines will prove less effective against the new variant.

“Of course our behaviours in winter – and particularly around Christmas – we tend to socialise more, so I think all of those will need to be taken into account,” she told the BBC. “So I think being careful, not socialising when we don’t particularly need to, and particularly going and getting those booster jabs.”

Professor John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and a Sage member said: “Jenny Harries is, of course, correct. Reducing our social contacts now will slow the establishment of this new virus in our country. It will also help reduce the spread of the Delta virus which we are still struggling with. If you are intending to socialise or go to the office then the risk can be significantly reduced by taking a lateral flow test beforehand.”

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said the conflicting messaging on Omicron was “extremely frustrating” and that Christmas bookings and advance ticket sales have already been hit following the announcement of the new variant.

“At the very moment operating costs are at their highest, we are now faced with another poorly conceived communications strategy from Government which has and will severely impact businesses,” he said.

“It is surreal and extremely frustrating to see healthcare advisers publicly telling people not to socialise, giving unnecessary uncertainty to our customers and workforce.”

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