LONDON – As the Christmas party season gets underway in Britain, Boris Johnson’s government is struggling with mixed messages on Covid-19 while denying reports it broke rules on staff bashes last year.
Despite scientists who advise the government on virus curbs suggesting people consider changing some of their festive social plans, ministers appear split on the issue.
Johnson has insisted events including traditional office parties can go ahead, saying Thursday the government did not want “to make people feel that they need to start cancelling things”.
Moments after receiving his booster jab, he vowed a “balanced and proportionate” approach, promising: “Christmas this year will be considerably better than Christmas last year.”
Last December, Johnson announced in a last-minute U-turn a “stay at home” order for London and southeast England, forcing millions to cancel Christmas plans.
This year, there will be no limits on guest numbers and “nothing in the rules to prevent anyone from having Christmas parties or gathering in any way,” his spokesman has said.
– ‘Cautious snogging’ –
But other ministers have struggled to stick to the party line.
Business minister George Freeman told Times Radio that his department “won’t be having a big Christmas party this year. Nobody would expect us to”.
He also told the BBC that companies that usually hold large parties may question this year: “Is that sensible, given the pandemic and given where we are?”
The risks presented by such parties were seen in Norway last week, when one resulted in 60 people catching Covid-19, despite all being fully vaccinated.
The Times reported that both the education and business ministries had decided not to hold Christmas parties. Hospitality bosses said they also had seen bookings scaled back.