'Is Christmas safe?': Health minister is still making plans despite Omicron concerns

29 November 2021, 09:23 | Updated: 29 November 2021, 10:00

Ed Argar confirmed he is still making Christmas plans as the Omicron variant casts doubt on festive plans
Ed Argar confirmed he is still making Christmas plans as the Omicron variant casts doubt on festive plans. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Health minister Ed Argar has confirmed he is still making Christmas plans as the Omicron variant casts doubt on the festive season.

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Asked by Nick Ferrari at Breakfast whether Christmas is still safe, Mr Argar said he is "looking forward" to the big day.

He assured listeners the new mandatory mask wearing rules are "precautionary" steps to make December celebrations "possible".

The Conservative MP for Charnwood said: "I am still planning and looking forward to seeing friends and family over Christmas but what we are doing now is hopefully what will help make that possible.

"So I am still planning on that basis.

"The other thing I would say to people is, when you are eligible get your booster, because that is still a hugely important part of beating this virus."

It comes as nine confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant of concern have been detected in the UK in recent days.

Read more: Covid-19: Six cases of Omicron variant found in Scotland

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Explaining why the variant is causing concern, Mr Argar said: "The challenge with this new variant is that I think it has got about 50 mutations from the original variant, of which 32 are to the spike protein.

"That is the bit of the virus that connects to human cells, allows it to infect. So on that basis you’d look at it and think that with those changes it may be a lot more transmissible but we don’t know yet."

When asked why social distancing measures are not being introduced alongside mask wearing, Mr Argar replied: "Well what I think we have sought to do here is come up with a proportionate and measured response to a new variant which we don’t yet understand.

"I’m hopeful that actually when the scientists have done their work over the coming weeks, hopefully it will not prove to be more dangerous of vaccine resistant but we’ve got to give them time to do that work.

"And what this does is it puts in place swiftly a proportionate and balanced set of measures to slow down the seeding and the spread of this."

Read more: Omicron: Symptoms, cases, and what we know so far

Read more: Booster jabs for every adult to fight Omicron and save Christmas

Boris Johnson announced a wave of new measures to try and slow the spread of the "variant of concern" over the weekend.

These come into effect at 4am on Tuesday and will be reviewed in three weeks time.

They include mandatory face masks in all shops and on public transport. All arrivals to the UK from abroad will have to self-isolate and take a PCR test by day two, and isolate until they receive a negative result, even if they are double jabbed.

Contacts of any Omicron cases will also have to isolate, regardless of vaccination status.

At his press conference on Saturday, Mr Johnson also tried to reassure the public, saying Christmas would be "considerably" better than last year, and the vaccine would offer a "measure of protection" against the new variant.