Are Christmas parties cancelled? What officials and experts have said about festivities this year

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  • Are Christmas parties cancelled? It’s the question everyone is asking as Plan B restrictions come into place from Friday December 10. 

    Last year, Christmas was effectively cancelled just days before celebrations were set to begin and we were going back into lockdown in time for the new year. So, it’s fair that we’d be looking to make up for lost time in 2021. However, along with early excitement, there have been concerns that the new variant – named Omicron – could scupper plans before they’ve even begun. At a press conference earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that England would be taking on Plan B measures, which includes guidance to work from home, compulsory face masks in many public indoor spaces, and the requirement to show proof of a double vaccination in some venues.

    But many events have still been given the green light to go ahead despite the new rules. So will you be able to celebrate with friends, family and even get to have an office party this year? Here’s what government and health officials have said about the upcoming festive season.

    Are Christmas parties cancelled?

    No, Christmas parties can still go ahead for 2021

    Health Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed that there are no plans to prevent Christmas gatherings this year. 

    Speaking to Sky News earlier this week, he said, “I think people should continue to behave in the way they were planning to behave over Christmas.

    “I don’t think there is any need to change those plans.” 

    Family popping Christmas crackers together at dining table as christmas parties are not cancelled

    Government advice says there’s no reason to cancel Christmas parties at the moment, Credit: Getty

    The prime minister has also said that other in-person events can happen over the festive period, including school nativity plays.

    But the health secretary has urged people to remain vigilant and take “sensible precautions” against spreading the virus to others, especially in light of the new variant. 

    “I think that we can go ahead with whatever we planned for Christmas. I think that’s absolutely fine,” Mr Javid said. “But what I will add to that is that we have always said even before this variant came along, that as we get into the colder, darker days of winter, Covid likes that and that flu viruses like that.” 

    “So…it’s just a sensible time for everyone just to remember that and take whatever cautious measures that they can.”

    For similar reasons, health experts have been giving advice on whether you should go to work with a cold during the Covid-19 pandemic.

    An official from SAGE has warned that the Omicron variant is spreading “very fast” and the UK faces a “very large peak” of cases soon. Professor Andrew Hayward from University College London said, “It’s a bit like if you think of a month’s worth of rain falling in a few days. That leads to flooding and it’s a similar type of scenario.”

    It may take several weeks before scientists really know the true impact of the new variant, however.

    Before heading out to a Christmas party, Mr Javid said that he would advise taking a Covid-19 test. Lateral flow testing kits, for example, are still available for free from the government’s website. While lateral flow tests can be false positive or negative, this is highly unlikely according to new research. So people should use them, along with sticking to the host of new measures, to help to combat the spread of the virus. 

    The new measures Covid-19 measures introduced from December 10 2021 include: 

    • Compulsory face coverings in most public indoor venues, including cinemas, theatres and places of worship.
    • Anyone who can work from home should do so, as of December 13.
    • From December 15, the NHS Covid Pass will become mandatory for entry into many indoor spaces. This includes nightclubs and settings where there are more than 500 attendees. As well as events where there are 4,000 or more people unseated outdoors. And events where there are more than 10,000 people indoors or outside.

    There is no requirement to wear a face mask in hospitality venues, however. As the PM said in a statement, “There will be exemptions in venues where it is not practical to wear [a face mask], such as when you are eating, drinking or exercising. For that reason, face masks will not be required in hospitality settings.”

    A Covid Pass is also not a requirement in hospitality venues with a capacity lower than 500 people. However, a venue can request customers show a Covid Pass.

    As well as this, the government has announced a huge extension of the Covid booster jab roll-out and are now encouraging everyone over the age of 18 to get the vaccination.

    The decision to carry on ahead as ‘normal’ comes just days after allegations of parties held at Downing Street over Christmas and spring 2020, through to 2021. Now being investigated by Sue Gray, who is a senior civil servant, the report is expected in the new year.

    Are you more likely to get Covid-19 at a party?

    Unfortunately, you are more likely to get Covid-19 at a party than elsewhere in your daily life.

    As the government ads on television suggest, people can easily spread Covid-19 indoors. Especially where there is little ventilation and everyone is in close proximity to each other.

    Recent research from the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London found that in badly ventilated spaces, Covid-19 spreads faster through talking than it does coughing. Working out to more than two metres in just seconds. This is because when we speak, we produce small droplets which spread very quickly around an enclosed room. They can accumulate if there isn’t any way for the droplets to escape. While coughing does expel droplets too, these are likely to be much larger. They settle on surfaces rather than travel through air.

    Published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A, they also show that social distancing measures alone won’t be enough protection.

    As well as face masks and Covid-19 vaccinations, research has highlighted the need for thorough ventilation – even if it’s a bit nippy outside.

    If you want to see how fast Covid-19 can travel, you can use the same tool in the study’s research. Airborne.cam allows you to input the environment, including whether anyone is wearing a face mask, and it will give you a percentage of how likely infection is.

    Should I cancel my Christmas party?

    If you’re worrying about going to a Christmas party this year, here are some things to consider:

    • Does the space have good ventilation with open doors, windows and outside space?
    • How many people will there be at the party? And is there the requirement to proof a negative Covid test before entry?
    • What date is the party? I.e. if you tested positive following the event, do you have 10 days to isolate before Christmas – even after the self isolation rules have changed?
    • Are you (or someone you’re seeing within days of the party) clinically vulnerable?

    Government officials – including Boris Johnson – have urged people not to change their plans ahead of the festive season. But some health officials have warned otherwise.

    Dr Jenny Harries is the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency and head of NHS Test and Trace. She told the that people could prevent the spread by reducing their social contacts.

    She said that the “vaccines appear to be effective” against the new variant but if “we find that the variant is more highly transmissible, [it] could still be a significant impact on our hospitals.”

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