Omicron: Boris Johnson insists ‘this Christmas will be considerably better than last’

Watch: PM 'confident' this Christmas will be 'considerably better than last'

Boris Johnson has said Christmas this year will be "considerably better than the last" despite the emergence of the new Omicron strain of COVID-19.

The prime minister made the remarks as he addressed journalists at a press conference alongside health secretary Sajid Javid and NHS England CEO Amanda Pritchard.

"I said at the weekend that I'm still confident that this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas and that remains my view 48 hours later," Johnson said, referring to his press conference on Saturday.

Last year, he was forced to break promises he made to Britons about a "normal" Christmas after the country saw a huge surge in infection levels due to a new variant triggering a national lockdown.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Tuesday November 30, 2021.
Boris Johnson said he believed Christmas this year would be better than the last. (PA Images)

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At Tuesday's press conference, he was questioned on whether he agreed with remarks made by Dr Jenny Harries, CEO of the UK Health Security Agency, after she advised against unnecessary social contact now.

"So the answer is 'no'," he said.

"The guidance remains the same, and we’re trying to take a balanced and proportionate approach.

“We’ve got the measures in place to fight Delta, which we think are appropriate, and then we’re bringing in some tougher measures to stop the rapid seeding of Omicron in this country to give us the time we need to get the boosters in and of course to find out more.”

Chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency Dr Jenny Harries during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Thursday May 27, 2021.
UK Health Security Agency CEO, Dr Jenny Harries, said people should avoid unnecessary social contact. (PA Images)

He also insisted that people should not cancel Christmas parties or school nativity plays in wake of the new virus strain.

Both the prime minister and the health secretary also stressed that increasing the uptake of booster jabs was a key part of the country's strategy moving forward.

Johnson said England will have more than 1,500 community pharmacy sites, and that temporary vaccination centres will be "popping up like Christmas trees" over the coming weeks and months alongside a "jab army".

He said the plan was for all adults to have been offered a booster jab by the end of January, working by age group in five-year brackets to enable older people — and those more vulnerable to the virus — are vaccinated first.

“So, even if you have had your second jab over three months ago and you are now eligible, please don’t try and book until the NHS says it is your turn," said Johnson.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (Covid-19). Picture date: Tuesday November 30, 2021.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said booster jabs are the key to a normal Christmas this year. (PA Images)

The Omicron variant has sparked concern globally, with countries around the world reporting cases and shutting down their borders.

The strain, which has over 50 mutations, has triggered warnings from scientists that it may have some ability to reduce the efficacy of vaccines - as well as be more contagious.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) have said it will be weeks until more is known about the virulence and the dangers of the new strain.

The health secretary, who said 18 million booster doses have been delivered across the UK, conceded that much of the response to the new variant is reminiscent to last year when the emergence of a new strain threw the country into lockdown.

A vaccinator administers the flu vaccine to a woman at a vaccination centre. The government and NHS leaders are urging people to get their flu and Covid-19 booster jabs. (Photo by Dinendra Haria / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The prime minister said new vaccination centres would be "popping up like Christmas trees". (PA Images)

“What we’re seeing recently has brought back memories of the strain of the last winter," he said.

"But although we can’t say with certainty what lies ahead, we have one huge advantage that we didn’t have back then: our vaccination programme, which has already done so much to keep this virus at bay."

Adding: “If we want to give ourselves the best chance of a Christmas with our loved ones, the best thing we can all do is step up, roll up our sleeves, and get protected when the time comes.”

The government have also introduced a range of new measures in response to the Omicron variant including the return of mask wearing on public transport and in shops - angering some of their own MPs.

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A group of Conservative MPs were spotted in the House of Commons just moments before the press conference maskless, with several arguing against new social distancing measures.

"It is not really about face coverings," Conservative MP and lockdown sceptic Steve Baker told the House of Commons.

"To me it’s not really about this issue of the coming pingdemic through the self isolation”.

Adding: “It’s about how we react and the kind of nation and civilisation we are creating in the context of this new disease.

“I believe that there is no plausible path set out before us which leads to a genuine public health emergency. And yet the government is choosing to react in the way that it has."

He also suggested that the government was on a "downward path towards hell" over their new measures.

Watch: Temporary vaccination centres will 'pop up like Christmas trees', says Boris Johnson