As countries across Europe, including Belgium, are imposing stricter measures and even lockdown to curb the fourth coronavirus wave, the United Kingdom seems to be going full steam ahead for Christmas, despite rising infections.
During a Covid-19 press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on people not to cancel festive events and gatherings because of concerns about the new Omicron variants, which has led many countries to impose entry bans on travellers from southern African countries.
“We don’t want people to cancel events,” Johnson said on Tuesday when asked about companies and individuals that have been cancelling bookings or dropping out of Christmas social events.
He added that the best protection was the Covid-19 booster jab and that all eligible adults in England aged 18 and over will be offered this shot by the end of January 2022 as part of an accelerated campaign supported by the National Health Service with logistical assistance from the army.
This announcement comes despite the UK reporting its highest daily rise in infections since July, as well as recording 42 Omicron cases. It also goes against advice from various health experts and key government figures, creating mixed messages just weeks ahead of Christmas.
No kissing under the mistletoe
Ahead of the press conference, Jenny Harries – chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency – suggested that people reduce their social contacts, especially amid fears that the current vaccines may not be as effective against the new variant.
Just two days after Johnson’s announcement, business minister George Freeman revealed during a BBC Radio 4 interview that he cancelled his party for his parliamentary staff – and suggested that larger companies consider doing likewise.
However, since the reporting of the Omicron variant, the number of people dining out across the UK fell to its lowest level since indoor dining reopened in England, Wales and Scotland in May, according to OpenTable data shared by the Office for National Statistics.
In light of these figures, Oliver Dowden, the Conservative Party Chair, said people should “keep calm and carry on for Christmas,” claiming that the Government has put the necessary restrictions against the new variant in place.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said that people should enjoy Christmas, but warned against “snogging under the mistletoe.”
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said that there was no need for people to “change their plans” other than to consider taking a test before meeting others or wearing a face mask.
Comparison with continent
Johnson’s advice is not only in stark contrast with expert advice, but it also goes against measures imposed in many EU countries. Belgium’s Consultative Committee met on Friday morning for the third time in three weeks to discuss stricter measures.
On Thursday, Germany announced far-reaching measures for non-vaccinated people which will prevent them from participating in many aspects of public life, as many leisure activities are only open to those who are vaccinated or have recently recovered from the virus.
Two weeks ago, Austria went a step further and announced a nationwide lockdown to curb infections, as it recorded its highest number of new infections since the start of the pandemic.