Health

How The Omicron Variant Could Affect Your Christmas Plans

New restrictions have been put in place in England.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07: A shopper walks past a Christmas window display at John Lewis, Oxford...
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In response to a sharp rise in Covid infections across Western Europe and the Omicron variant, more and more countries are beginning to reintroduce lockdown measures to curb the wave.

For the past few months, the governments of England, Scotland, Wales, and N. Ireland have suggested that the public can look forward to a more normal Christmas in 2021 than we experienced in 2020. But with a concerning new variant leading to flight bans, is there a chance a Christmas lockdown in the UK?

Will There Be A Christmas Lockdown In England?

As the wave continues to spread across the continent, the possibility of a spike in cases here is ever increasing. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he couldn’t “rule anything out” in terms of a reintroduction of measures during a Downing Street press conference on Nov. 15, adding as the UK doesn’t “yet know the extent to which this new wave will wash up on our shores”, the country “cannot afford to be complacent” when it comes to the possibility of reintroducing measures to stop the spread. However, the Prime Minister remains “pretty confident or absolutely confident” that this Christmas “is going to be better than last Christmas,” he said during a Downing Street briefing on Saturday, November 27. “I think I will stick with that,” he concluded.

The government does have a contingency plan ready to go (otherwise referred to as ‘Plan B’), parts of which are being reintroduced in response in response to the Omicron variant. The reintroduction of compulsory face mask-wearing in England will come into force on November 30. A work from home order being put in place, as well as the possibility that vaccine passports could be introduced for particular venues, and the public would be instructed to “clearly and urgently” exercise caution and follow the rules to help curb the spread.

But according to Health Secretary Sajid Javid, Plan B isn’t on the table just yet. Instead, the focus is the vaccination rollout and booster program. “We’ve said all along that we’ve got Plan A, and that’s where we firmly are at the moment,” he told Sky News on Monday (Nov. 22). “If we needed to take further measures with Plan B then we would do so, but we’re not at that point.”

Will There Be A Christmas Lockdown In Scotland?

Scotland hasn’t ruled out the reintroduction of stricter measures over Christmas. Deputy First Minister John Swinney told the BBC in November that he was "very hopeful that this could be a normal Christmas.” But he did add” "It will be a normal Christmas with us all taking care, is what I would say. We may have to put in place some additional measures to make sure that is the case."

Will There Be A Christmas Lockdown In Wales?

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said in October that unless anything unexpected happened, those in Wales would have a Christmas "much more like the ones we are used to". However, he hasn’t rejected the possibility of reintroducing of stricter restrictions in the event of a new fast-spreading variant, or a drop in public immunity levels, per the BBC. As in England, Wales has a “Covid Urgent” plan which will be put in place if the NHS seems likely to be overwhelmed.

Will There Be A Christmas Lockdown In Northern Ireland?

Like Wales and Scotland, Northern Ireland may return to stricter lockdown measures should levels of coronavirus cases take a turn for the worse. In early November Health minister Robin Swann told BBC Radio Ulster that the government is doing “all we can” to avoid another lockdown, but added: "will we have to look at further restrictions? Possibly.”

What Have The Experts Said?

Some experts are already recommending that the British public “delay planning Christmas for as long as possible” until something concrete is said by the government.

“Rates of transmission are still very high, numbers of Covid weekly deaths continue around 1,000, the NHS is described by those running it as ‘hitting breaking point’ and ‘unsustainable’,” Prof Susan Michie of University College London told the Guardian. Michie is a member of the government’s Covid-19 behavioural science team and is a member of the Independent Sage group.

“Covid cases [are already] taking up hospital beds with the potential to tip the NHS into crisis,” she continued. “And we haven’t hit winter yet.” The likes of Scotland and Northern Ireland are considering the reintroduction of more measures to curb the spread before the festive season, and while England has yet to follow suit other than the new mask rules, Michie recommends returning to some old protective habits like social distancing, ventilation, restricting contact, and using hand sanitisers as well as face masks in settings other than just shops and public transport.

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