Covid: Tory chairman says Conservative staff Christmas party will be going ahead despite Omicron variant fears

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Oliver Dowden said the Conservatives would be holding a “normal Christmas gathering” of London staff (PA)
Oliver Dowden said the Conservatives would be holding a “normal Christmas gathering” of London staff (PA)

The Conservative Party chairman has said there are no plans to cancel a staff Christmas drinks despite concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant.

Oliver Dowden said the Conservatives would be holding a “normal Christmas gathering” of London staff that was “completely consistent with the rules”.

His comments come after a host of large firms in the capital announced their staff Christmas parties would not be going ahead amid fears over the spread of the variant.

Scientists are concerned the new strain could be both more transmissible and resistant to vaccines - though there is no conclusive data on how effective it is against jabs yet.

On Thursday, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said that her party would cancel a planned Christmas function, but did not urge firms to do to the same.

Despite the raft of cancellations, Mr Dowden urged Britons to “keep calm and carry on” with their Christmas festivities.

He told Sky News: “The message to people, I think, is fairly straightforward – which is: keep calm, carry on with your Christmas plans.

“We’ve put the necessary restrictions in place, but beyond that keep calm and carry on.”

Ministers have been accused of offering conflicting advice on whether Christmas parties and large gatherings should go ahead.

Business minister George Freeman on Thursday said his government department would not be having a “big gathering”, telling Times Radio: “Nobody would expect us to.”

He said his parliamentary team would host a party via Zoom rather than gather in person.

Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey also sparked confusion on Thursday after claiming that “snogging under the mistletoe” should be avoided with “people you don’t already know”.

This was later contradicted by health secretary Sajid Javid, who said that “people can snog who they wish”.

There are currently no rules banning large gatherings of people - though scientists have encouraged Britons to limit social contact over the festive period if they can.

Ministers have stressed that new rules around wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport and the return of testing for travel is sufficient to curb the spread of the variant.

Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), on Friday said “the chances of getting infected were too high” to have a party.

Prof Openshaw, an expert in experimental medicine at Imperial College London, told BBC’s Question Time: “Personally, I wouldn’t feel safe going to a party at the moment, if it involves being indoors in an enclosed space where you’re close to other people, and people are not wearing masks.

“Even if they’ve been tested and vaccinated, I wouldn’t feel safe.”

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