Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people not to cancel Christmas parties or school nativity plays this festive period, as he promised to “throw everything” at the Covid booster vaccination campaign amid the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
He promised that everyone eligible would be offered a booster jab in England by the end of January, with vaccination centres “popping up like Christmas trees” and at least 400 military personnel helping the NHS.
This comes after a senior health official suggested that people should limit social contacts in the run-up to Christmas.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) chief, Dr Jenny Harries, said: “If we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay.”
Dr Harries told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that even if our “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.”
However, Mr Johnson insisted that he had already put in place a package of “balanced and proportionate measures” in response to the threat posed by the new variant.
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.
“What we are doing is trying to take a balanced and proportionate approach to the particular risk that seems to be posed by Omicron – certainly is posed by Omicron – focused in particular on measures at the border.”
The mandatory wearing of face coverings in shops and on public transport came into force in England on Tuesday morning (30 November), 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.
The Government believes that the booster programme will provide the greatest line of defence against Omicron, and the Prime Minister promised another “great British vaccination effort” to deliver millions of jabs at a recent Downing Street press conference.
“We’re going to be throwing everything at it, in order to ensure that everyone eligible is offered that booster in just over two months,” he said.