Consider cancelling office Christmas parties due to Covid fears, says UEA expert

A Christmas Party

A virus expert has said people might want to think carefully about whether to attend Christmas parties given the emergence of the Omicron variant. - Credit: PA

People may want to consider staying away from office Christmas parties in the light of the emerging Omicron variant, a Norfolk virus expert has said.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said, during his press conference on Tuesday, that he did not want people to cancel Christmas parties.

That came after Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK's Health Security Agency, had urged people to cut social contacts and to not socialise "when we don't particularly need to".

Prof Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia's School of Medicine, said he had decided to skip his office's Christmas party - and suggested others might want to follow suit.

He said: "It's notable that England is not advising against Christmas parties and, personally, I think that is a mistake.

"You might say 'if you're going to ban Christmas parties, why not close nightclubs?'

"But I think there's a difference when it comes to work Christmas parties.

"Nightclubs tend to be full of 20-somethings, who are generally at low risk.

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"But the thing about an office Christmas party is you can get a lot of 20-somethings, who might have been going out a lot, mixing with more vulnerable, older people, who have not.

"Last week, I probably wouldn't have said this, but thinking about it in the context of the new variant and hearing what people who know their stuff have said, I think they are probably right.

"Having said that, I don't think we should stop people meeting up over Christmas.

"When people meet their families over Christmas, they generally tend to stay indoors for a few days and come into contact with fewer people than normal."

With increasing numbers of Omicron cases detected in the UK, including one in north Norfolk, Prof Hunter said it was "inevitable" it would spread in the community.

He said scientists would need to gather evidence before the impact it will have becomes clear.

But he added: "I think it will push numbers up, but it is not inevitable that it will push hospitalisations up much above what they would have been anyway."

He said, while vaccines are unlikely to give 100pc protection against it, they would give a degree of protection and prevent serious illness.