All the confusing Covid Christmas advice from top Tories – and what rules actually say

Yet again, you’d be forgiven for being confused about Covid rules.

With the Omicron variant on the rise, the government imposed new laws on face masks and travel testing in England.

But that then triggered a wave of ‘freelancing’ advice from ministers and a top official that wasn’t government policy.

No10 has been forced to deny the Cabinet are at loggerheads amid the flurry of conflicting comments.

Officially, the government’s Covid advice in England is as follows.

It’s a legal requirement to wear a face mask (unless exempt) in shops, public transport, banks and hair salons.

It’s also a legal requirement for all arrivals in the UK to get a Day 2 PCR test and isolate until it is negative.

And it’s a legal requirement to isolate for 10 days if you’re a close contact of a suspected Omicron case – even if you’re vaccinated.

However, it’s not a legal requirement to cut down on gatherings or close contact, work from home, or reduce travel. Masks also aren’t a legal requirement in hospitality venues.

Guidance – which is voluntary – “strongly recommends” that people wear a mask “in crowded and enclosed spaces, where you may come into contact with other people you do not normally meet.”

Guidance also says people “may wish to take a rapid lateral flow test” for Covid in certain situations. These include on days when they’ll be “spending time in crowded and enclosed spaces, or before visiting people who are at higher risk of severe illness if they get COVID-19.”

So with that out the way, what on earth have Tory ministers – and an advisor to the government – been saying? We take you through it.

‘Don’t snog under the mistletoe, much’

Cabinet minister Therese Coffey said Brits should refrain from smooching strangers at Christmas.

“I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe,” the Work and Pensions Secretary told ITV’s Robert Peston.

“Don’t need to do things like that. But I think we should all be trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us and that’s why we’re working so hard to get the deployment of as many vaccines as possible, and of course continuing to encourage people who haven’t been vaccinated at all yet, to come forward, recognising that we’re still trying to understand the impact of Omicron.”

Asked if there should be “just no snogging?”, she replied: “Well, not with people you don’t already know!”

No10 said of Ms Coffey’s comments: “It is down to individuals to use their personal judgement”.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey urged Brits not to snog under the mistletoe

‘Companies may cancel big Christmas parties’

Science Minister George Freeman turned into Mr Freelance when he appeared to contradict his own boss and No10.

He said: “For many small businesses, four or five staff working together every day anyway, gathering to have a drink isn’t a big step up in risk.

“But some companies might normally bring hundreds of people around the world to a big party.

“And they may decide this year ‘is that sensible?’, given the pandemic and given where we are.”

Boris Johnson ’s official spokesman responded: “On Christmas parties, we don’t want people to cancel such events.

“There is no government guidance to that end.

George Freeman said big companies might cancel big Christmas dos


Tayfun Salci / Avalon)

“It’s right that post Step Four we return to the position were people can use their individual judgement.”

Meanwhile Mr Freeman said the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy would not be having a “big” festive bash.

But his words came weeks after the Secretary of State Kwasi Kwarteng said a party was already booked.

A Business Department source said “different teams do different things” and no single party for BEIS had been planned.

‘Maybe take a lateral flow test, I might wear a mask’

Health Secretary Sajid Javid tracked close to the official guidance – but that only went to show how vague it is.

He said there wasn’t “any need to change” Covid rules, but said he’d take a lateral flow test before going to a Christmas party.

“If you are invited to a Christmas party, there’s quite a few people there, maybe you want to take an LFT before you go,” he said.

“Go to the party, but just be cautious.”

Sajid Javid said ‘maybe’ take a lateral flow test or wear a mask – which in fairness is the guidance


AFP via Getty Images)

Asked if he’d wear a mask at the party he replied: “Maybe.

“It depends if I’m walking around or sitting down – it depends. If I’m eating. People just need to make a decision based on the guidance.”

Mr Javid backed the Prime Minister, urging people to “follow the existing guidance and be sensible about that.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I think he was very clear about what he was saying.

“He was setting out that we do have a significant testing capacity, and if people wanted further reassurance they could use that.”

‘Go to nativity plays – but obviously wear a mask’

Care Minister Gillian Keegan encouraged parents to attend school events – but added they should “obviously” follow non-mandatory guidance.

Asked about nativity plays, she replied: “I think we’ve said go about your plans.

“I mean, obviously wear a mask, be cautious, you know, all the things that people usually put in place, to be honest.

“I think most people have been sensible all along, but we’re not saying to people cancel your plans and I’m sure it would be lovely to go to a nativity play right now.”

Asked if Christmas would be “ruined”, Ms Keegan replied: “Hopefully not”.

‘Try not socialising when you don’t need to’

Dr Jenny Harries is the odd one out in this list as she’s a non-political scientific advisor to the government, not a Tory minister.

But the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) triggered the whole row earlier this week with her comments.

She said working from home could be a “key” element of controlling a possible surge in future – despite No10 resisting the measure.

She also said “not socialising when we don’t particularly need to” over Christmas could keep the virus at bay.

Expert Dr Jenny Harries was the one who kicked off the row about advice


Getty Images)

She told the BBC : “We’ve seen that not everybody has gone back to work and I’d like to think of it more in a general way.

“Which is if we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay.

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

Boris Johnson directly rejected the advice, adding: “On Christmas parties and nativity plays, we don’t want people to cancel such events.”

‘We’re not in Plan B yet and don’t cancel anything’

Lastly we come to Boris Johnson, who despite enacting mask laws has insisted we’re still not in his Plan B for winter.

He has insisted people should not cancel anything and only need to follow the guidance.

Despite saying “what Jenny’s saying there is right”, he directly rejected her advice. Asked if he agreed with her he said: “The answer is no.”

The PM added: “We’re not going to change the overall guidance, we don’t think that’s necessary.

“We don’t see anything to suggest that we need to go for instance to Plan B, but what we do need to do is take particular precautions against Omicron until we’ve worked out exactly what kind of a threat it may present.”

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