Boris Johnson has contradicted prominent scientists and one of his top health officials who have advised people to cut back on unnecessary socialization in response to Omicron because he urged people not to cancel their Christmas parties or their nurseries.
The Prime Minister said the best thing to do to counter the threat of the Covid variant was to get booster shots, with a massive military-backed NHS effort to offer one to all adults in the country. here at the end of January.
When asked what he would say to schools that were cutting down on nurseries and people dropping out of Christmas social events, Johnson said, “We don’t want people to cancel such events. We think the best thing for children is to be in school, as I have said many times throughout this pandemic. “
He also pointed out that the current guidelines for wearing masks on public transport and in shops were sufficient at this point, despite Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, suggesting that people should reduce their social contact. as fears grow that existing vaccines will prove less effective against the Omicron variant.
“Of course our behaviors in the winter – and especially around Christmas – we tend to socialize more, so I think all of that will have to be taken into account,” said the former deputy chief medical officer for England. on BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
” So I think [the solution is] be careful, don’t socialize when we don’t particularly need it, and especially go get those boosters.
With 22 cases of Omicron now confirmed, including a student at the University of Nottingham and nine linked to a social event in Scotland, senior scientists have suggested that it would be wise for people to cut back on their social activities.
Some scientists and Labor have raised concerns that the government is not going far enough. Professor John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said: “Jenny Harries is, of course, right. Reducing our social contacts now will slow down the spread of this new virus in our country. It will also help reduce the spread of the Delta virus that we are still struggling with. If you intend to socialize or go to the office, the risk can be significantly reduced by performing a lateral flow test beforehand.
Professor Andrew Hayward, co-director of UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Healthcare, said: “I’m concerned that the escalation of the mix at Christmas social events is spurring transmission just as the Omicron variant will likely be selected. ramp up speed, potentially leading to a spike earlier in the New Year before we have a chance to counter that through boosters. Such a spike could seriously affect the ability of an already struggling NHS to provide adequate care.
“In this context, my personal view is that it’s reasonable for people to reduce mixing indoors, but based on the current evidence, I wouldn’t want that applied. “
Others asked for more clarity on the advice. Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said the sites were facing “another ill-conceived government communications strategy that is and will have a severe impact on businesses,” with Christmas bookings and sales. of tickets in advance already affected.
Ruth Rankine, Director of Primary Care at the NHS Confederation, added: “Health officials need clear and consistent messages from government and its national bodies to the public about what they are supposed to do and when, both around vaccinations as well as how they can protect themselves and those around them. “
Wes Streeting, the new shadow health secretary, said he was concerned about Harries’ comments because “she is clearly worried the government is not on the right track, not doing everything it needs to do. “. He called for measures such as requiring Covid testing before the departure of all travelers arriving in the UK to help “ensure that Christmas can go as we hope”.
Johnson said he was not ruling out switching to “Plan B” – an order to work from home and the introduction of vaccine passports – but he said it was not necessary at this point, data on the effects of Omicron not being expected for another two weeks.
The threat of further restrictions and Harry’s comments sparked a backlash among some Tory MPs, who warned of a “mission slippage.” Steve Baker, a Conservative MP from the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown skeptics, challenged it in the House of Commons, saying it “now appears that employed officials are no longer tied to politics” and that it was a “Recipe for chaos”.
Some conservatives were also concerned about the new isolation requirements for suspected contacts of Omicron cases, with 34 votes against the settlement in one vote and 24 against mandatory masks. Steve Brine, former health minister, said the isolation rule change “bothers me a lot more” than the expansion of mask use, not least because of its impact on schools.
He said, “We’re not just looking at a pingemia in our economy and in our businesses, we are looking at a pingemia that’s going to devastate education again. “
During his press conference in Downing Street, Johnson insisted that there would be no return to the ‘pingdemia’ of the summer, when many healthy contacts of people with Covid were to stay away. House. He also insisted the booster program and urging the unvaccinated to come forward was the best way to defeat Omicron, with the NHS announcing it would need an army of 10,000 volunteers and 1,500 new sites. to help deliver 25 million vaccines over the next two months.
But despite the Prime Minister’s encouragement to school heads not to cancel their nursery plans, some schools are switching to virtual performances due to concerns about the risks of infection and the challenges presented by the new variant.
Jamie Barry, principal of Yew Tree Primary School in Walsall in the West Midlands, had hoped to set up a live nursery this year with an audience, but it will now be a virtual performance amid concerns about the risk of staff and pupils have to isolate because of the new variant.
“Until the new variant, there was no risk of isolation for close contact,” Barry said. “Now, if someone tests positive with the new variant, people have to self-isolate regardless of their age or vaccination status. I can’t risk losing half of my staff or missing kids in the last week of the term. Boris wants schools to stay open, but if staff have to isolate themselves and there is a nationwide supply shortage [teachers] we don’t have a lot of choice.
He said the 12 schools in his group had changed their plans.