Nervtag scientist ‘would not feel safe’ at Christmas party over Covid fears

Professor Peter Openshaw said the chances of getting infected are too high

David Hughes
Friday 03 December 2021 00:03
<p>A minister said larger firms may be looking again at their plans for Christmas parties (PA)</p>

A minister said larger firms may be looking again at their plans for Christmas parties (PA)

An influential scientist has warned that he would not feel safe going to a Christmas party this year as Boris Johnson insisted there was no need to cancel festive plans over the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), said “the chances of getting infected were too high” to have a party.

His comments came after the Prime Minister and Health Secretary Sajid Javid tried to calm fears about Christmas as the hospitality industry warned it had suffered a “slew of cancellations”.

Prof Openshaw, an expert in experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said: “We have not been planning to have a Christmas party.

“Because with things as they are, regardless of Omicron, we thought that the chances of getting infected were too high.”

Revellers in Trafalgar Square, London in pre-pandemic times (Yui Mok/PA)

Asked about the Prime Minister’s stance on Christmas plans, Prof Openshaw told BBC’s Question Time: “Personally, I wouldn’t feel safe going to a party at the moment, if it involves being indoors in an enclosed space where you’re close to other people, and people are not wearing masks.

“Even if they’ve been tested and vaccinated, I wouldn’t feel safe.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) said people should be encouraged to “avoid large groups” and meet outdoors where possible over the festive period.

Mr Johnson said “we don’t want people to feel that they need to start cancelling things” and insisted that “Christmas this year will be considerably better than Christmas last year”.

He was speaking after business minister George Freeman appeared to muddy the waters by suggesting parties may depend on how many people are attending, while Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey suggested “snogging under the mistletoe” should be avoided with “people you don’t already know”.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid (Aaron Chown/PA)

Health Secretary Sajid Javid “people can snog who they wish”, adding that people should be cautious but “it’s got nothing to do with the Government who you kiss or anything like that”.

But Dr Penelope Toff, chair of the BMA’s public health medicine committee said “contradictory public health messages about Covid-19 are very unhelpful for everyone”.

Dr Toff said: “There should be no confusion about what to do over the festive period.

“There have been persistently high levels of Covid-19 infections in the community in recent months, and we now have a new variant circulating, which is worrying.

“Stronger measures need to be implemented without delay, to prevent even higher rates of spread of the virus in the community.

“People need to be encouraged to avoid large groups, to meet only outdoors where possible and face masks should be worn in all public indoor spaces except when people are seated to eat and drink.”

In a joint statement, UKHospitality, the British Institute of Innkeeping and the British Beer & Pub Association urged those with Christmas plans “not to cancel”, with bookings down on previous years.

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