Javid: Take Covid tests before going to Christmas parties

Tests and masks for Christmas parties? Sajid Javid says he would take a lateral flow and wear a face covering at a festive bash – as venues blame ‘chilling’ messaging for cancellations

  • People should take a Covid test before going to Christmas parties this winter, the Health Secretary has said
  • Sajid Javid told Sky News that revellers should take precautions before going to festive parties
  • Hospitality leaders have now accused the Government of ‘mixed messaging’ as they face cancellations 
  • New rules on international travel, including additions to ‘red list’ and a testing, has also spooked travellers

People should take a Covid test before going to Christmas parties this winter, the Health Secretary has said.

Sajid Javid told Sky News’s Kay Burley this morning that revellers ought to take precautions before going to festive parties amid mounting concerns about the new Covid variant. 

But he said people do not need to change their Christmas plans and rubbished fears of another ‘pingdemic’ caused by large numbers of healthy people being told to self-isolate for 10 days after coming into contact with someone infected with the so-called ‘Omicron’ strain.  

Prime Minister Borisd Johnson urged people not to cancel Christmas parties or school nativity plays during a press conference yesterday, where he promised to ‘throw everything’ at the booster vaccination campaign to tackle the variant’s spread. 

But his government has now been accused of ‘mixed messaging’ after UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries recommended people reduce the extent to which they socialise this winter – in a hint that restrictions could go further. 

Hospitality leaders now fear another hammering to their industry this December. Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, told Radio 4’s Today programme that Saturday’s press conference and the return of restrictions including compulsory facemasks and self-isolation had had a ‘chilling effect on consumer confidence’. She warned against ‘the threat of a stop-start to the economy again’ in the run up to Christmas. 

New curbs on global travel including the addition of 10 countries from southern Africa to the UK’s so-called ‘red list’, a return of testing rules, and quarantine hotels have also spooked travellers – and sparked a wave of cancellations of bookings at airport hotels. 

The Arora Group said travellers who stay at hotels at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports before catching early morning flights are axing their December bookings. They are even suspending corporate events at the four-star Fairmont in Windsor in January due to mounting uncertainty about the spread of the Covid variant, group chairman Surinder Arora said.

Asked by Sky News if people should take a Covid test before attending Christmas parties, Mr Javid said: ‘I would.’

He added: ‘I think people should continue to behave in the way they were planning to behave over Christmas. I don’t think there is any need to change those plans.’

Pressed on whether he was anticipating another ‘pingdemic’, the Health Secretary insisted: ‘At this point in time the case numbers are very low. That will certainly go up but the numbers are low. I hope it stays that way. I’m not worried about a ”pingdemic” type of situation.’

In the latest twist and turn of the coronavirus crisis: 

  • New rules on self-isolation will be enshrined in law until March, sparking fears the curbs could remain in place beyond December 21;
  • NHS waiting lists could double to 12 million by 2025 despite billions more in taxpayers’ cash being pumped into our hospital wards, a report has found;
  • Coronavirus cases in South Africa have soared by 403 per cent in a week, after the country’s scientists sounded the alarm about the Omicron variant;
  • Businesses warned Mr Johnson last night that the ‘chilling effect’ of Covid restrictions will cost the economy ‘billions’ in the run-up to Christmas;
  • The Government unveiled a mammoth new booster vaccine drive to deliver third doses to all adults by the end of January to shield the nation against the variant;
  • Britain’s overall infection numbers continued to fall, with 39,716 positive tests recorded over the last 24 hours. It was down 6.5 per cent on last Tuesday’s figure of 42,484;
  • The number of people dying with the virus fell 3.6 per cent to 159 and hospitalisations dropped 6.1 per cent to 718 on Friday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits stalls at a Christmas market outside 10 Downing Street in London

Hospitality leaders have accused the Government of ‘mixed messaging’ as they face a wave of cancellations this month

Travellers are cancelling corporate events at the four-star Fairmont in Windsor booked for January due to mounting uncertainty about the spread of the Covid variant

Boris Johnson insisted he had already put in place a package of ‘balanced and proportionate measures’ in response to the threat posed by the new variant as cases of Omicron reached 22 in the UK


Left, Arora Group chairman Surinder Arora. Right, UKHospitality boss Kate Nicholls

Self-isolation rules will be in law until MARCH: Tory MPs blast the Government for enshrining Omicron regulations for FOUR MONTHS despite promising to review the curbs in three weeks amid fears of return to a pingdemic 

Tory MPs have blasted the Government after it emerged new rules on self-isolation will be enshrined in law until March, sparking fears the curbs could remain in place far beyond a promised three week review.

A new restriction came into force yesterday which will require people who have been in contact with a case of the Omicron coronavirus variant to self-isolate for 10 days or risk a fine of up to £10,000.

Boris Johnson has said that rule, along with requirements to wear face masks in shops and on public transport and for returning travellers to take a PCR test on or before day two after arrival, will be reviewed before Christmas.

But the regulations underpinning the self-isolation rule are not due to expire until March 24, prompting a backlash from anti-lockdown Tories.

Conservative MPs have expressed concerns that the new rule could cause a fresh ‘pingdemic’ which could devastate the economy and education system.

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid today dismissed those concerns as he said the current number of Omicron cases is still ‘very low’ with 22 confirmed cases across the UK.

But hospitality chiefs warned of a growing ‘sense of trepidation’ among customers that their Christmas plans might be disrupted for the second year running.

Ms Nicholls of UKHospitality told the Today programme: ‘I think you are seeing once again a return of uncertainty.

‘It’s quite clear the messaging over the weekend had a chilling effect on consumer confidence and we are starting to see a small number of cancellations. It’s a trickle at the moment, and we were very pleased that the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary yesterday did say that the measures they had put in place were sufficient and that people could feel confident about going ahead with Christmas bookings and Christmas parties, which is so essential for hospitality.

‘But we need that message to be reinforced more strongly to put an end to the uncertainty and the threat of a stop-start to the economy again in the run up to Christmas.

‘I think it’s driven largely by consumer confident. I think there’s also a sense of trepidation that their plans might be disrupted again, and so that irrespective of whether there are government controls imposed on the economy, that is having a cooling effect undoubtedly on hospitality.

‘We already saw that bookings were subdued this year compared to pre-pandemic levels. And this will clearly have a further adverse impact on our businesses.’

Mr Arora told the programme: ‘It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Obviously we had the quarantine hotels at the beginning of this year, and then over the past few weeks as we’ve been trying to return to some kind of normality, most of the hotels have gone back to operating normal commercial hotels.

‘And then of course last week we were hit with this new virus, so sadly that’s all changed again and the Government’s obviously introduced 10 new countries on the red list which means they need a few hotels to go on the quarantine programme.

‘Over the last few weeks, when the quarantine finished we were thankful for getting back to some kind of normality. Since this latest news, instead of getting new bookings the guys are getting a lot of cancellations.

‘We obviously have a lot of transient, a lot of leisure business, with guests flying out of the country – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted – normally tend to spend a night with us before they travel, especially early morning flights. And now a lot of those are being cancelled.

‘And not just the leisure business, were getting quite a few bookings cancelled for meetings and events. I know, for instance, some of the larger bookings – we just recently opened our new flagship at the Fairmont in Windsor, and they actually had big large corporates who had bookings in January who are saying ”actually, we may want to push it back to further, later in the year to get some more clarity on where we’re heading”.’

Hugh Osmond, founder of Punch Taverns who sued the Government over the lockdown on indoor hospitality earlier this year, added: ‘Fewer social contacts do not mitigate the risk. 

‘What they actually manage to do is they reduce temporarily the number of young people being infected and ultimately it means that over the long-term more old people catch the disease as the Sage model showed from the beginning. 

‘We know that at the moment the studies that have been out of Israel, South Africa, the UK and America that once you have been infected, none of the variants show more potentially. 

Britain’s overall infection numbers continued to fall, with 39,716 positive tests recorded over the last 24 hours. It was down 6.5 per cent on last Tuesday’s figure of 42,484 and marked the fourth day in a row cases have dropped. The number of people dying with the virus fell 3.6 per cent to 159 and hospitalisations dropped 6.1 per cent to 718 on Friday

New Covid restrictions in England in force today

New restrictions on compulsory facemasks, testing and travel in England were published on Monday night and came into force at 4am on Tuesday.

FACEMASKS  

People must wear facemasks in the following places:

  • Public transport;
  • Retail shops;
  • Beauty salons;
  • Hairdressers;
  • Banks;
  • Post offices;
  • Takeaways;
  • Estate agents;
  • Veterinary clinics;
  • Taxis;
  • Driving instruction cars.

Those caught flouting the restrictions will be fined £200 for a first offence, which will double on each subsequent offence up to a maximum of £6,400.

Schoolchildren are being asked to wear facemasks in communal areas but not classrooms. Teaching unions have called for masks to be extended to lessons. 

TRAVEL 

All travellers returning to the UK must take a PCR test and self-isolate for 10 days until they receive a negative result. 

Anyone who breaks the self-isolation law without a ‘reasonable excuse’ faces a fine of £1,000, rising to £10,000 for repeat offenders and serious breaches.

A number of countries in Africa were added to the UK’s red list last week. They are:

  • Angola;
  • Botswana;
  • Eswatini;
  • Lesotho;
  • Malawi;
  • Mozambique;
  • Namibia;
  • South Africa;
  • Zambia;
  • Zimbabwe.

SELF-ISOLATION

All contacts of anybody who tests positive for the so-called ‘Omicron’ variant must self-isolate – regardless of their age or vaccination status. 

This has sparked fears of a return to the ‘pingdemic madness’ of the summer, when a million healthy pupils were forced to stay home because of the Test and Trace system. 

Anyone who breaks the self-isolation law without a ‘reasonable excuse’ faces a fine of £1,000, rising to £10,000 for repeat offenders and serious breaches. 

‘They do a little with vaccines, but variants will come and go – it’s very, very normal that viruses mutate, and variants will come and go.’ 

He told the Today programme: ‘You’ve got to remember that social interaction – after food and water – is the most important thing for a human being’s mental health. 

‘If you want to do something bad to human beings, after starving them and depriving them of water – the worst thing you can do to a human being in terms of affecting their health, and eventually physical health, is depriving them of social contact.’

Boris Johnson insisted he had already put in place a package of ‘balanced and proportionate measures’ in response to the threat posed by the new variant as cases of Omicron reached 22 in the UK.

The mandatory wearing of facemasks in shops and on public transport came into force in England yesterday, along with tighter testing requirements for international travel and the return of self-isolation for contacts of confirmed Omicron cases, even if they have been fully vaccinated.

But it is the booster campaign which the Government believes provides the greatest line of defence against the new variant and the Prime Minister promised that everyone eligible would be offered a booster jab by the end of January with at least 400 military personnel helping the NHS, and vaccination centres ‘popping up like Christmas trees’.

Mr Javid said Omicron cases are likely to go higher and ‘we have to be realistic’ that there is already likely to be transmission within the community.

Dr Harries had earlier told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that even if ‘vaccines appear to be effective, but we find that the variant is more highly transmissible, having lowish grade infection, but in very large numbers of the population, (it) could still be a significant impact on our hospitals’.

‘And, of course, our behaviours in winter and particularly around Christmas, we tend to socialise more, so I think all of those will need to be taken into account,’ she added.

‘If we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay.’

She suggested ‘being careful, not socialising when we don’t particularly need to’ and getting a booster jab.

The comments caused alarm in the hospitality industry and helped fuel a Tory backbench revolt which saw Conservatives rebel over new restrictions.

Asked whether parties and Nativity plays should be scrapped, Mr Johnson said: ‘We don’t want people to cancel such events and we think that, overwhelmingly, the best thing for kids is to be at school, as I have said many times throughout this pandemic.’

He also rejected suggestions that advice on working from home should be reinstated in England, as is happening in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, in response to the concerns about Omicron.

Scientists believe Omicron could be more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant and may render vaccines less effective because of the extent of its mutations.

Mr Johnson, who visited a festive food market set up in Downing Street after the press conference, will be asked about the Government’s approach again during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons today.

In the Commons on Tuesday, 19 Tories – with two rebel tellers – opposed the mask-wearing measures.

Some 32 Conservatives rebelled by voting against the self-isolation regulations while two more acted as tellers for the noes, but the measures both comfortably passed.

Sir Graham Brady, who chairs the powerful Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, said there were ‘serious concerns’ about the ‘efficacy of what is being proposed’, and warned against ‘mission creep’.

Former minister Steve Baker said ‘we are taking away the public’s right to choose what they do based on flimsy and uncertain evidence’ while Tory veteran Sir Christopher Chope labelled the regulations ‘oppressive, authoritarian and dictatorial’.

Questions about the Government’s approach come as the Daily Mirror reported accusations that Mr Johnson and Downing Street staff had broken Covid rules by attending parties at Number 10 in the run-up to Christmas last year.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: ‘Covid rules have been followed at all times.’

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