Great Britain
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Boris Johnson insists Christmas parties can go ahead despite ministers saying the opposite

BORIS Johnson was last night scrambling to save Christmas and end days of Cabinet squabbling over new Omicron rules.

He slapped down a slew of his ministers who had suggested there could be no snogging or big parties in a series of rogue diktats.

 The PM, 57, who got his booster jab yesterday, insisted there was no need to cancel gatherings, family meet-ups or nativity plays over fears of the new variant.

He begged confused Brits not to panic as he sought to calm the chaos by saying of the tougher restrictions claims: “There’s no need for that at all. That’s not what we are saying.

“Please, we’ve got to take a balanced and proportionate approach to this. We want people to continue as they are.”

The PM’s intervention came after several days of conflicting advice from ministers and top doctors across the airwaves.

Yesterday, No10 distanced themselves from a string of ministers who tried to dampen the Christmas spirit by suggesting people should not kiss strangers and avoid attending huge parties.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey sparked a furious backlash when she ordered people to avoid “snogging under the mistletoe” this year.

An unusual cross-party alliance broke out as the Health Secretary and Labour leader both said ministers should not be telling people who they can and cannot kiss.

Sajid Javid declared: “People can snog who they wish — it’s got nothing to do with the Government who you kiss.”

And Sir Keir Starmer insisted: “I don’t think it’s the role of government to dictate who people can kiss or not kiss.” 

It came after science minister George Freeman revealed his department had abandoned its festive bash to have it on Zoom instead, and said people should think twice about a gathering of more than five or six people.

He warned: “Some companies might normally bring hundreds of people in from around the world to a big party, and they may decide, this year, is that sensible?”

 A Downing Street spokesperson said the nation should look at the Government guidance as it was set out at the weekend, adding: “There is nothing in the rules to prevent anyone having a Christmas party or socialising in that way.” 

They stressed there was plenty of capacity for Brits to get a test before they see friends and family.

Frantic hospitality bosses are seeing firms cancel their Christmas bashes over Omicron, which now has 42 confirmed cases in the UK. Some large companies, including NatWest, Aviva and Deloitte, are hosting smaller team parties.

Young’s pub group boss Patrick Dardis said the messaging from officials had been “terribly confusing and inconsistent”.

 And Royal College of Nursing council chairwoman Carol Popplestone argued that mixed messages from ministers could create “even more worry and confusion”.

UKHospitality, the British Institute of Innkeeping, and the British Beer & Pub Association joined forces to say: “We urge those with bookings not to cancel them, but to carry on and enjoy their festive season parties, safe in the knowledge that hospitality venues are doing everything they can to ensure people have a safe and fun Christmas and New Year.”

🔵 Read our Omicron variant live blog for the latest news

Two-thirds of Brits oppose closing pubs and more than half are against a return to the hated rule of six, a YouGov poll found.

 Meanwhile, scientists assessing vaccines said they were ready to move very quickly on deciding whether kids as young as five should get Covid jabs in the UK.

The JVCI’s Prof Adam Finn said it was waiting for the green light from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

The boss of vaccine maker Pfizer, Dr Albert Bourla, warned “Covid in schools is thriving” and some children will get seriously ill.


CASES HIT HIGH

COVID cases hit a five-month high yesterday as labs discovered ten more people with Omicron.

There were 53,945 positive tests, up by 14 per cent on last week and the most since July 17.

But deaths and hospital numbers fell — with 141 more victims and 7,644 patients on wards.

Seven more Omicron cases in England plus three in Scotland took the UK total to 42.

Suspected cases of the mutant strain have trebled in five days and now account for one in every 300 infections, scientists say.

But health chiefs say Delta is the bigger problem. Prof Steven Riley, from the UK Health Security Agency, said: “As we see the Omicron variant emerging, the Delta variant continues to circulate at high levels.

“It’s still causing substantial infection and hospitalisation in older people. Getting vaccinated, or a booster if eligible, is essential.”

The Government's mixed messages

PM BORIS JOHNSON

DR JENNY HARRIES, TEST & TRACE

HEALTH SEC SAJID JAVID

CARE MINISTER GILLIAN KEEGAN

WORKS MINISTER THERESE COFFEY

GEORGE FREEMAN

WHAT THE RULES REALLY SAY

FACE coverings compulsory in shops, public transport and several other indoor settings. All international arrivals must take a PCR test by day 2 after arrival and isolate until it comes back negative. All contacts of Omicron cases must self-isolate, even if they are double jabbed.

SO YOU CAN...

GO to a party of any size. Kiss whoever you like, under the mistletoe or otherwise. Make your own mind up on taking a lateral flow test or wearing a mask. Have fun!

Cases hit high

COVID cases hit a five-month high yesterday as labs discovered ten more people with Omicron.

There were 53,945 positive tests, up by 14 per cent on last week and the most since July 17.

But deaths and hospital numbers fell — with 141 more victims and 7,644 patients on wards.

Seven more Omicron cases in England plus three in Scotland took the UK total to 42.

Suspected cases of the mutant strain have trebled in five days and now account for one in every 300 infections, scientists say.

But health chiefs say Delta is the bigger problem. Prof Steven Riley, from the UK Health Security Agency, said: “As we see the Omicron variant emerging, the Delta variant continues to circulate at high levels.

“It’s still causing substantial infection and hospitalisation in older people. Getting vaccinated, or a booster if eligible, is essential.”

UK daily Covid cases highest since JULY with 53,945 new infections and 141 deaths as mutant variant Omicron spreads

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