Covid: Avoid kisses under mistletoe over Christmas says minister, amid concerns over Omicron variant

Health officials have warned about the risks of socialising over Christmas amid concerns of the new variant spreading. Credit: PA

People can enjoy Christmas if they take “sensible” precautions, an expert has said, as a government minister warned against “snogging under the mistletoe”.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey was asked on ITV’s Peston programme whether she agrees with Jenny Harries or the government about social distancing over Christmas.

She said: “We should all be trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us”, adding: “For what it’s worth, I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe".

“And that’s why we’re working so hard to get the deployment of as many vaccines as possible, and of course continuing to encourage people who haven't been vaccinated at all yet, to come forward, recognising that we're still trying to understand the impact of Omicron”.

When Peston said 'just no snogging?', Ms Coffey replied: "Well, not with people you don't already know!"

Despite concerns that vaccines may provide less protection against the new variant, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to continue planning their Christmas gatherings.The government is pinning its hopes on increasing immunity within the population by extending the booster jab programme to all adults over 18, as well as bolstering its capacity with more vaccine centres and the help of at least 400 soldiers.Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said vaccines can do “a lot of the heavy lifting” amid concerns about the Omicron variant of coronavirus, though he acknowledged there were “so many uncertainties” about the new strain.

Suggesting measures such as social distancing and mask wearing, he told Sky News: “If people are sensible then I don’t see any reason why we can’t all enjoy Christmas again, unless this variant takes a real turn for the worse.

“And we’re really not going to know that for a couple of weeks”.

Earlier, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said people should continue following government advice despite warnings from some health officials over the risks of socialising.

The government has tightened rules around PCR tests for travellers returning to the UK and introduced quarantine rules for people from high-risk countries, as well as bringing back face coverings in shops and on public transport in England.

It has also accelerated the Covid booster programme to help slow down the spread of the new variant.

Professor Robert West, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B), sounded a note of caution and urged people to make “flexible” plans for the holiday period.

He told Sky News he personally would not make plans “that involve gatherings that can’t be changed”.

Prof West said: “In other words, keep flexible. Make your plans, by all means, as I am, but do it in a way which means that should the worst come to the worst, and we have to make sure that people stay apart from each other as much as possible as is safe, then you can still enjoy the holiday period”.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Covid-19 vaccines for potential booster campaigns in the next two years have been secured by ministers.

While there is uncertainty over the need for future campaigns, the government announced it has signed deals for 114 million Moderna and Pfizer jabs which will be delivered in 2022 and 2023.

Mr Javid said the deals “future-proof” the country’s vaccine programme.

They include 60 million additional doses of the Moderna vaccine and 54 million more Pfizer/BioNTech doses.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, Covid-19 technical lead at the World Health Organisation, said there is no indication that the vaccines will not work against Omicron.

“Even if there is a reduction in efficacy, it’s still better to have the vaccine because it will save your life,” she said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

The chief of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said EU nations should consider making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory.

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