It’s official: Christmas can go ahead. But with Omicron cases rising to a whopping 60,000, it’s more than likely restrictions will be introduced after the big festive day.
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, the prime minister said he would not rule out introducing stricter measures soon after.
Boris Johnson said “continuing uncertainty” about the severity of the Omicron variant and hospital admission rates means he did not believe new rules could be brought in yet. But he added that the situation remains “finely balanced” and people should “exercise caution”.
“So what I can say tonight is that naturally we can’t rule out any further measures after Christmas – and we’re going to keep a constant eye on the data, and we’ll do whatever it takes to protect public health,” Johnson said in a video message.
But, his comments have increased speculation that the government will move to tighten the rules as soon as Boxing Day in an attempt to suppress the spread of the Omicron variant. If that happens, it means your New Year’s plans are in jeopardy and it’s unlikely you’ll get to kiss a stranger at midnight.
Dr Bharat Pankhania, from Exeter Medical School, who has over 20 years experience in disease control and management research, says you can celebrate, but without gathering.
He tells HuffPost UK: “Firstly, be fully immunised with your vaccines and I mean, all your vaccines, like influenza, as well as Covid and your booster. And then of course you should have fewer gatherings and smaller groups.
“There is a storm of virus particles circulating the bigger the group you have. If you have a medium/big New Year’s party, the greater the chance that one of those particles will catch you. The other advice is is test really and the precautions are, if you are meeting people, then 10 days beforehand, you should reduce your movements, especially if you are meeting sensitive people like elderly.”
So what if you have a super low-key Christmas, with just your household and you haven’t gone out for the 10 days leading to NYE? Can you safely have a big celebration with other people then?
Dr Pankhania adds: “Well, no because the virus hasn’t gone on holiday on New Year’s Day. So the rules apply even if you did not do anything on Christmas. And these are not government rules. These are common sense biological rules, which is the virus is waiting to get you. You do your due diligence not to be caught by the virus.”
Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, says that having no restrictions for Christmas means we’ll be paying for it later.
“This is a very risky approach and is very likely to result in the need for more stringent restrictions in the near future,” he says.
“Given the extraordinarily and inexorable rapid spread of the omicron variant, it’s never been more important for people to take individual responsibility to protect themselves, their families and friends.”
He adds that it may take individual initiative to curb the spread of Covid (which, unfortunately might mean cancelling any New Year party you may have had planned).
Professor Young adds: “While we are hopeful that vaccines will do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping omicron under control, other interventions are also required to prevent case numbers rising and the NHS becoming overwhelmed. Limiting the size of gatherings, avoiding crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, wearing a face covering and frequent use of lateral flow tests are all protective measures that we can take to limit the spread of this variant.”
If we aren’t being responsible with our Covid measures, and if the government aren’t more stern, then consequence will be severe, he adds.
“If the omicron variant continues to spread at the current rate, it is inevitable that more restrictions will be necessary in England. Waiting for case numbers and hospitalisations to increase is likely to be too late to suppress the spread of the omicron variant and will subject the NHS to unprecedented pressure.”
Prof. Young believes we need to “buy time” to ensure the booster jabs have taken effect and” not let Omicron continue to spread unfettered”.
“A short circuit break now would have prevented more people from getting infected and from having to isolate which is now impacting many essential services,” he says. “Have we learnt nothing from our previous experiences with coronavirus? Dither and delay will only mean more harsh measures later while we run the very real risk of many folk getting sick and massive disruption due to staff absences.”
So whatever your New Year plans, celebrate safely.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.