Covid-19: Johnson rejects health adviser’s warning on Christmas gatherings

PM looks to booster vaccines as at least 14 cases of Omicron variant reported in Britain

British prime minister Boris Johnson: ‘We don’t see any need currently to change the guidance about how people are living their lives.’ Photograph: Paul Grover/WPA Pool/Getty

British prime minister Boris Johnson: ‘We don’t see any need currently to change the guidance about how people are living their lives.’ Photograph: Paul Grover/WPA Pool/Getty

 

Boris Johnson has dismissed a call from one of his top health advisers for people to limit the spread of a new coronavirus variant by cutting down on their social gatherings in the run-up to Christmas.

With at least 14 cases of the Omicron variant reported in Britain, Health Security Agency chief Jenny Harries said it could have a significant impact on hospitals if it proves to be highly transmissible.

“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. We’ve seen that not everybody has gone back to work and I’d like to think of it more in a general way, which is if we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay,” she told the BBC.

“So I think being careful, not socialising when we don’t particularly need to and particularly going and getting those booster jabs which, of course, people will now be able to have at a three-month interval from their primary course.”

Mr Johnson has reintroduced mandatory face coverings in some indoor settings and a new testing and self-isolation regime for people arriving into Britain. But the prime minister said no further restrictions or guidance on personal behaviour were necessary to deal with the variant.

“We are not changing the guidance on how you should be living your life except in a couple of ways – putting a mask on in some contexts . . . and making sure we check people when they arrive in this country,” he said during a visit to a vaccination centre.

“We need to delay the seeding of Omicron in this country, that is why tough checks at the borders are so important. But we don’t see any need currently to change the guidance about how people are living their lives and provided people continue to be sensible and cautious.”

Boosters

The first ministers of Scotland and Wales have imposed tougher measures, including advice to work from home where possible. But Mr Johnson told a press conference in Downing Street that he believed the rapid rollout of third vaccination doses to all adults offered the best protection from all variants of coronavirus.

“The target that we’ve set ourselves is to offer a booster to everyone eligible by the end of January. As with the first jabs, we will be working through people by age group going down in five-year bands, because it is vital that the older and the more clinically vulnerable get that added protection first,” he said.

Twenty-two Conservative MPs defied the whip on Tuesday to vote against regulations mandating mask wearing in some indoor spaces, with veteran backbencher Christopher Chope accusing the prime minister of running a propaganda campaign to suppress individual freedom.

“I cannot support these oppressive, authoritarian and dictatorial regulations. They’re neither necessary nor desirable, they will have an adverse effect on lives, livelihoods and the mental health of our constituents,” he said.

“They’re designed to suppress freedom of the individual and suppress social contact, and they’re doing that through unreasonable fear-mongering.”

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