Covid: Confusion as government gives mixed messages on Christmas party cancellations

Health secretary says nobody should change plans as business minister says he has cancelled his team get-together

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 02 December 2021 12:11
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Minister says he has cancelled in-person Christmas party

Government ministers are giving mixed messages on whether to cancel Christmas parties this year, amid concern about the rise of the new omicron Covid variant.

Business minister George Freeman on Thursday morning revealed he has cancelled his own party for his parliamentary staff – and suggested larger companies might consider following suit.

But it comes after health secretary Sajid Javid said there was no need for people to "change their plans", other than consider taking a test or wearing a mask.

Speaking less than 24 hours after his colleague, Mr Freeman suggested that a gathering involving "hundreds" of people might be be considered an unnecessary risk.

Hospitality industry representative bodies have told The Independent that some businesses have already suffered from cancellations in the festive period.

And some NHS trusts have already asked staff "not to mix in big groups" in the run-up to Christmas, according to the NHS Providers organisation.

But Mr Freeman said his own party for parliamentary staff would be taking place by Zoom this year.

"We've decided this year that it is probably sensible to do it by Zoom and wait for the spring. It won't be the best party in the world," he said.

"But ... we don't want to be telling every individual business what they should or shouldn't be doing. It is a matter for them."

Elaborating on what other organisations should do, he BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It slightly depends on the nature of the business. For many small businesses, four or five staff, who are working together every day anyway, gathering to have a drink isn't a big step up in risk.

"But 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 given the pandemic and given where we are?

"In the end, I think business people know how to make those decisions. The Government has set out clear guidance."

The government has imposed requirements to wear masks on public transport and in shops in response to the discovery of a new variant known as omicron.

While little is known for sure about omicron at this point, scientists are worried it could be significantly more virulent and possible bypass vaccines.

The government has said it will review the new rules, which also include new controls on international travel, in three weeks time when more is known about the new variant.

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