Dr Jenny Harries, Managing Director of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said everyone can do their part by reducing the amount of social contact they have – and “not socializing when we do not particularly need it ”.
But the PM rejected Dr Harries’ appeal, insisting he had already put in place a set of “balanced and proportionate measures” in response to the threat posed by the new Omicron variant.
Speaking at a press conference in Downing Street, Mr Johnson said: ‘We don’t want people to cancel events like this and we overwhelmingly believe that the best thing for children is to be in school, as I have said many times throughout this pandemic.
“What we’re doing is trying to take a balanced and proportionate approach to the particular risk that appears to be posed by Omicron – certainly is posed by Omicron – focusing, in particular, on border measures. “
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The Prime Minister had previously told reporters that “it is always wise to be careful”.
Speaking earlier on Monday, Dr Harries had said: ‘If we all decrease our social contact a bit, it actually helps keep the variant at bay. “
His comments alarmed many Conservative MPs who subsequently voiced their concern in the House of Commons.
A former Conservative minister said the government “faces chaos” following Harries’ comments.
In a question to Minister of Health Maggie Throup, Steve Baker said: “Is (Mrs Throup) seriously saying that it is not for ministers to have a particular opinion on the public servants employed in the? department who come out and take a position that is at odds with the government’s public policy decision?
“Because if this is really the policy we have now, that even departmental employees can take their own personal positions, we are really facing chaos and the overthrow of long-standing government principles. “
Mr Baker later told the Commons that voting on the new measures he opposed – including the mandatory wearing of face masks in shops and on public transport – was a “fundamental choice between going to Heaven and going. in hell “.
Meanwhile, MP Steve Brine said, “If it’s government policy then we’re in completely different territory, and the regulations we’re debating here today, I don’t even know where to start because they’re fly on the rhino’s back. “
He added: “There is nothing in these regulations that says you have to cancel the Christmas holidays, unless Dr Harries, of course, is in charge, but there is everything in the language and the narrative coming out of government right now that causes Christmas parties to be canceled. “
Another Conservative, former chief whip Mark Harper, asked Ms Throup to “make it clear that Dr Harries only speaks for herself” and not for the government.
Ms Throup replied that she “cannot speak for anyone else who is on the air”.
Elsewhere, Greater Manchester’s nightlife economics advisor Sacha Lord has warned that many restaurants are “experiencing Christmas party cancellations” following mixed messages.
“Most of these businesses were in desperate need of a good December. The ripple effect will be catastrophic. Businesses, jobs, supply chain. A blow for a devastating year, ”he wrote in a tweet.
And Clive Watson, managing director of the City Pub Group, which owns 45 pubs in England and Wales, said some corporate Christmas bookings have been postponed to New Years.
“We called larger groups and not cancel – but postpone to January or February,” he told Sky News.
“But from what we can see, the little workgroups and the friends that get together before Christmas, it’s always good. “
More than 20 cases of the new Omicron variant have so far been identified across the UK, although experts expect the number to increase in the coming days.
It is believed that the variant could be more transmissible and could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, although England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has said vaccines could still prevent serious illness.
Asked what is needed for further action to be taken, Dr Harries told BBC Breakfast that experts will be looking at how the virus works and behaves, “and then, obviously, if it starts causing serious illness. – and we have not had any hospitalizations in the UK – then we will look at the characteristics of those admitted to hospital ”.
In October, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said Plan B measures should be implemented in unison to have the greatest effect in tackling any increase in coronavirus cases.
Among the individual measures, SAGE said working from home would have the greatest impact.
Dr Harries said SAGE’s advice was to call in work from home if there was an increase in cases, but stressed that there were still only a small number of confirmed cases of Omicron.
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The Prime Minister said during Tuesday’s Downing Street briefing that the reintroduction of this specific measure was not necessary.
New measures to fight the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus entered into force, with face covering becoming compulsory again in England in shops and establishments such as banks, post offices, hairdressers and on public transport.
All travelers arriving in the UK must also take a PCR test no later than day 2 and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
Meanwhile, the government confirmed earlier this week that all adults will be offered a booster vaccine – with the plan for it to happen before the end of January.