Office parties can still happen, say government, but get tested on the day
- Credit: Prenetics
Party goers may have to take a Covid test before their firm's Christmas bash.
But celebrations can go ahead with no limit on numbers, says 10 Downing Street - despite calls from a Norfolk MP for firms to think again before throwing large gatherings.
Large employers such as Aviva, Natwest and Deutsche Bank have told staff they can still party but must take a Covid test before attending.
A spokesman for Aviva, which employs around 5,000 in Norwich, said: "We're very aware that, as we head into December, people's thoughts turn to festive celebrations.
"Events can continue, but we are asking colleagues to take a lateral flow test on the morning of the event, and wear face coverings as appropriate."
Mid Norfolk MP and business minister George Freeman said in a round of media interviews that larger firms might want to consider cancelling festive gatherings.
"It slightly depends on the nature of the business. For many small businesses, four or five staff, who are working together every day anyway, gathering to have a drink isn't a big step up in risk," he said.
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"But some companies might normally bring hundreds of people in from around the world to a big party, and they may decide, this year, is that sensible given the pandemic and given where we are?"
Earlier this week Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to carry on as normal with their Christmas plans.
No 10 slapped down Mr Freeman's suggestion, saying restrictions on numbers were "not in the regulations".
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Government advice does not set any limits on numbers.
"There is nothing in the rules to prevent anyone from having Christmas parties or gathering in that way."
Asked whether Mr Freeman was wrong to imply that firms should consider not having a Christmas party, or to replace it with a smaller gathering due to the current coronavirus situation, the spokesman replied: "That is not in the guidance, it is not in the regulations."
Later, Mr Johnson added:"The most important thing is that people should follow the guidance that we've set out and people shouldn't be cancelling things, and there's no need for that at all, that's not what we're saying."
In a day of mixed messages Work and Pensions Secretary and Suffolk Costal MP Therese Coffey also said people should avoid "snogging under the mistletoe" this Christmas.
Some large firms are restricting their work parties to team events, to reduce the potential for spreading Covid by making staff celebrate within their own "bubble" of colleagues..
According to a survey of 2,000 office workers commissioned by Covid testing company Prenetics, about 52pc of UK workplaces have decided not to hold a Christmas office party this year.
There are fears mass cancellations could mean catastrophic fall-out for the beleaguered hospitality sector. Pubs are the second-most popular party venue after restaurants.
In a joint statement, UK Hospitality, the British Institute of Innkeeping, and the British Beer and Pub Association urged those with plans "not to cancel", with bookings down on previous years.
"The full range of hospitality venues across the UK would usually be experiencing their annual bookings bonanza at this time of year, but it hadn't materialised even before Omicron was first detected," they said.
"The WHO (World Health Organisation) announcement that Omicron infections are generally mild, plus Government promptings for festive gatherings to go ahead as planned, offer a crumb of comfort, and could at least slow the slew of cancellations the sector has experienced in the week since Omicron was discovered."
Prenetics said of those holding parties, one in four employees have decided to stay home, while 45pc said fellow employees who had not been doubled jabbed should be banned from the office party.
Firms holding parties have also decided to be cautious. Some 13pc were banning kissing at the office party, 10pc were stopping standing at the bar and 8pc were preventing staff from dancing.
If you wish to, here are some ways you can take precautions at the Christmas party
Don't go if you have symptoms.
Take a lateral flow test before you go.
Pop a hand sanitiser in your purse or pocket to help keep germs at bay.
Take a festive mask – go prepared so you have the option of wearing a mask if it makes you or your colleagues feel more comfortable.
Get your booster jab to top up your protection if eligible.
Put your handbag on the floor a metre apart so your friends can maintain socially distanced dancing.
Take a lateral flow test five to seven days after the party to ensure if positive you may have time to isolate without ruining the family Christmas.
Don't linger at the bar for too long. Standing near too many people could put you at greater risk
Drink too much alcohol. It can make you lose your inhibitions and get too close to others.
Avoid the Conga, holding hands and any close contact dancing.