Dominic Raab has encouraged people to “enjoy Christmas” and that they should “get their loved ones around them”, despite fears of the Omicron variant.
The justice secretary encouragaed people to still go to Christmas parties and events, before adding that his own Christmas party plans at the Ministry of Justice have been scaled back.
Boris Johnson’s government has enforced only a few new rules in response to the more transmissible and potentially vaccine resistant Omicron variant, which includes mandatory face masks and stricter rules over international arrivals.
Anyone who has been in close contact with a case of the variant, first discovered in South Africa, also has to self-isolate.
Raab told Sky News that there was no need to worry about Christmas being cancelled like last year, despite a report in the Sunday Times today that said Johnson would have to make a decision on 18 December about whether to impose new restictions over the holiday.
“I think it’s going to be a great Christmas. All the family, friends, loved ones being able to get together in a way we haven’t been able to do for a couple of years is really important,” he said.
“Let me be absolutely clear, the government wants people to be able to enjoy Christmas this year. That means people should feel free to go and enjoy those celebrations.”
When asked about office Christmas parties, he added: “People can go on and have Christmas parties.
“Of course employers will want to think common-sense about how they do that. We don’t want to substitute for that discretion and that common sense.”
The UK’s scientific authorities are still uncertain about how dangerous the Omicron variant is or if it is resistant to vaccines.
However, some members of the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) are urging caution.
Sage member Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said the variant “may actually be milder but we haven’t got enough data yet to be able to say”.
“Just like last year with the Alpha variant, this is a terrible time for a variant to come along,” he said.
“The next two weeks are probably some of the highest-risk periods with a lot of indoor socialising that we know is extremely high risk.
“It’s appalling timing. I’m sure the government would love not to disrupt Christmas. What happens after Christmas of course is another matter.”