No10 cancels its 2021 Christmas party amid Omicron concerns - but urges others to continue
ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener reports on how the No10 Christmas party reports have added pressure on the prime minister and angered those who lost loved ones to the virus
Number 10 has cancelled its Christmas party amid growing concerns over the Omicron variant of coronavirus - but it encouraged others to press ahead with their festive plans.
Despite previously saying there would be Christmas bash, and repeatedly urging people not to cancel their own parties, Downing Street said it had scrapped the plans due to an increased workload caused by Covid.
Boris Johnson's spokesperson said dealing with the Omicron variant is "taking up great deal of time at the moment" and so there are "no plans" for a party in Number 10 this Christmas.
Is the party over for Boris Johnson after a week of bad press about alleged rule-breaking?
On Monday he said there "is an intention to have a Christmas party this year" but the plans changed amid a furore about gatherings in Downing Street last year which are alleged to have broken Covid laws.
The PM called an investigation into three government parties allegedly held during last winter's lockdown, after ITV News released leaked footage of Number 10 staff laughing about one reportedly held on December 18.
Asked when the decision was taken, the spokesman said: "Following the decision on Plan B and the latest data that we've got."
Was there a rule-breaking Downing Street party last Christmas?
Mr Johnson is under significant pressure over claims of law breaking in government after ITV News revealed a video showing former press secretary Allegra Stratton laughing with No 10 staff about an alleged party in Downing Street on December 18 last year.
Two other gatherings will also be investigated, one reportedly attended by the PM in 10 Downing Street on November 27 and another at the Department for Education on December 10.
On Friday, members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, who took cheese and wine to Downing Street as a stunt, following allegations the same nibbles were available last year, expressed their anger at the reports of the rule-breaking No10 Christmas party.
"We had eight people at her funeral, we weren't allowed a wake- a celebration of her life. We've still not actually been able to do that, and yet Downing Street have been able to break the rules and have a party," one said.
'Angry doesn't even touch it, I am absolutely furious'
Another member of the group said: "I do believe that they would have been still partying- but we can't, all our loved ones have died."
'Would it have been cancelled if that was never leaked? I don't think it would've been'
This week, it was announced Covid restrictions were being tightened to deal with the new variant.
Work from home advice has returned, masks are mandatory in most indoor settings and vaccine passports will be required for entry to large venues - but the regulations did not tell people to cancel planned gatherings.
The PM's spokesman said it was to individual businesses to decide whether Christmas parties should go ahead.
The spokesman said: "We do not think there is a need to cancel people coming together in hospitality venues like that."
Asked whether it was therefore the wrong message for the chancellor to cancel Christmas drinks, he said: "It's down to individual businesses and indeed departments to make a decision on what's right.
"We're simply saying as a matter of fact there's nothing in the guidance or the regulation that requires individuals to do so. We want people to keep using hospitality. We know that's important, and we're confident people will."
However, Dr Nick Phin, the director of public health science and medical director at Public Health Scotland, has urged people to put off their festive parties.
His comments came as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned the Omicron variant is threatening a "tsunami of infection" and poses a "renewed and very severe challenge".
Dr Phin said: "To help minimise the further spread of Covid-19, and Omicron in particular, I would strongly urge people to defer their Christmas parties to another time.
"I appreciate that everyone is keen to celebrate this festive season, particularly after the pressures of the last 20 months, but by postponing some plans we can all do our bit to protect ourselves and our loved ones."