Omicron variant: Bury St Edmunds shoppers urge government not to cancel Christmas

Shoppers in Bury St Edmunds have pleaded with the government not to cancel Christmas as concerns continue to grow about the emergence of a new Covid variant.

Three cases of the Omicron variant have now been identified in the UK, including one in Brentwood in Essex.

Essex County Council have confirmed that targeted testing will be carried out in Brentwood, with anyone who may have had contact with the individual being told to get a PCR test immediately.

Anyone who visited the KFC branch on the high street between 1pm and 5pm on November 19, or the Trinity Church in Pilgrim’s Hatch on November 21, must now get tested.

In a bid to slow the spread of the variant, the government has announced that face masks will once again become mandatory from Tuesday in shops and public transport in England as part of a tightening of restrictions.

It's led to fears that those restrictions could be ramped up further in the coming weeks if cases continue to rise, but speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said "people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas."

However, some shoppers ITV News Anglia spoke to in Bury St Edmunds on Sunday said they were still concerned that the variant could derail their plans for the festive season.

"My dad died this year so Christmas this year with my mum is so important," Angie Lines said.

Husband Keith Lines added: "This year is very important to us as a family, and with this new variant coming in, basically it seems that Christmas might get put on hold again."

  • Watch an extended interview with Regional & City Airports Chief Executive, Andrew Bell

PCR tests for travellers will also return on Tuesday, meaning anyone arriving in the country will have to self-isolate until they get a negative result.

Andrew Bell, who is the Chief Executive of the group that owns Norwich Airport, said he "completely understood' the need to bring back restrictions, but urged the government to ensure the measures were only in place for a limited time.

"Clearly, with the emergence of this new variant, we completely understand the need to take precautions in relation to international travel. So, whilst, obviously, nobody wants this to be the case, we understand why the government needs to take these precautionary steps," he said.

"Clearly the more difficult it is for people to travel, then the fewer people will travel, and as an industry Covid-19 has been very, very difficult for us."

Meanwhile, scientists say it's still too early to say just how dangerous the Omicron variant is compared to previous ones.

Face masks will become mandatory again in shops from Tuesday. Credit: PA

"It will make things more difficult this winter"

However, speaking to ITV News Anglia, Professor Paul Hunter from the University of East Anglia said that although we could be in for a "difficult" few weeks ahead, he was confident that Christmas would still go ahead.

"One of the things about Christmas is that actually, although we do tend to move around the country a bit more, we do actually mix less with other people over Christmas than we do in our normal, working lives," he said.

"So, actually, respiratory infections like Covid and like Flu, often spread less rapidly during the Christmas holiday than they do either side.

"Personally, I think it will make things more difficult this winter than we would have otherwise expected, but whether that makes it so difficult that it actually changes everything I doubt. It's still so difficult to get a really good understanding of how much of a threat this poses."