Are Christmas parties worth the risk?

Tis the season for Christmas parties – but with cases of the new Omicron variant rising fast, many people may have misgivings about attending a festive bash

That is the question. With strict limitations on social gatherings imposed during last year’s festive season, and many offices closed while workers were either on furlough or working from home, there wasn’t much chance (or appetite) for Christmas parties.

And this year?

With the vaccination programme having had a measurable effect on the number of hospitalisations and cases of serious illness, it’s a different case entirely and many people were looking forward to a night out with a mince pie in one hand and a glass of mulled win in the other. Or they were until the Omicron variant landed in the UK. Now many are doubting the wisdom of attending and as a result restaurants and catering companies are reporting mass cancellations of bookings. The Christmas party now comes with a serious health warning, it seems.

What sort of warning?

The sort issued by people whose names come prefixed by the title ‘Professor’ and who can generally be considered to know what they are talking about. “Reducing our social contacts now will slow the establishment of this new virus in our country,” says Professor John Edmunds, a member of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). “It will also help reduce the spread of the Delta virus which we are still struggling with.” Meanwhile Professor Andrew Hayward of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at University College London, says: “I am concerned that the intensification of mixing at Christmas social events will provide a boost to transmission at just the time when the Omicron variant will probably be picking up speed, potentially leading to an earlier peak in the new year before we have an opportunity to counteract this through boosters. Such a peak could seriously affect the ability of an already struggling NHS to provide adequate care.”

Bah, humbug!

Indeed. That’s certainly the opinion of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who appeared to contradict the views of his main scientific advisors last week when he said people shouldn’t cancel plans for Christmas parties. This comes in the wake of newspaper reports surrounding a Christmas party which did go ahead in No 10 Downing Street last Christmas, when social gatherings were supposed to be curtailed. Downing Street hasn’t denied the party took place but insists no Covid-19 rules were broken.

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