hristmas party advice from the Government was plunged into chaos on Thursday when a minister said his department would not be holding a big gathering and his parliamentary team was likely just to get together on Zoom for a festive toast.
Business minister George Freeman struck a different tone from Health Secretary Sajid Javid who 24 hours earlier was suggesting people carry on with their festive plans, while encouraging them to take a lateral flow test before going to a Christmas party.
Mr Freeman told Times Radio: “The Department of Business, we won’t be having a big Christmas Party this year, nobody would expect us to.
“My parliamentary team, I think we have agreed, probably given the new variant will get together on Zoom and toast each other.”
He admitted the remote meeting would not be the “best party in the world”.
He suggested international companies might want to hold Christmas parties if staff were being brought together for work meetings, though testing would aim to stop the importation of variants.
He added it was up to each business to decide whether they want to put on Christmas parties.
However, he stressed: “Most businesses are very, very aware that it’s in nobody’s interests that we spread the virus and we end up with a really, really difficult wave of Omicron.
“But in the end every business rightly has to make their own decision.”
“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,” he told Sky News.
Asked if people should take a Covid test before attending Christmas parties, Mr Javid said: “I would.”
He added: “If I was going to a party with 300 or 400 people for Christmas, I would take a (lateral flow) test before I go. I think it’s just a sensible precaution to take; not just to make sure you’re healthy and well, but to protect others.”
Mr Freeman is a science expert and his comments on parties were closer than the stance of other ministers to advice from Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, who earlier this week suggested “not socialising when we don’t particularly need to”.
Her comments sparked a backlash from Tory MPs worried about the blow to thousands of businesses from a return to people staying away from town and city centres, particularly the hospitality sector.
Some restaurants and pubs are already seeing many Christmas booking cancellations.