Experts warn people not to meet up before Christmas as coronavirus cases rise

People have been urged to reduce contact with others in the run-up to Christmas in a bid to limit the spread of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Stephen Reicher, professor of psychology at the University of St Andrews and a member of government advisory body the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group, said we probably need more restrictions “but that needs to go along with adequate support for business and individuals”.

Prof Reicher (pictured) told BBC Breakfast: “The safest thing to do is not to meet up before Christmas.

“If you want a good Christmas dinner, I would say be very careful about meeting up before Christmas. But you can do things to stack the odds in your favour if you ever do meet up – the first thing to do is to make sure that you have a lateral flow test.

“They’re not perfect but, if we take them, they improve our odds. Make sure that the spaces we go into are as well ventilated as possible, that we think about distancing, meet outdoors if we can.

“We can do all sort of things to stack the odds in our favour but the bottom line is the more we meet before Christmas, the more we put Christmas at risk.”

He added that polling suggests people are “ahead of the Government in recognising the threat of Omicron” in “wanting measures to be taken.”

His thoughts were echoed by Patricia Marquis, England director at the Royal College of Nursing, as she urged the Government to listen to scientific advisers to ease pressure on the NHS.

She told BBC Breakfast that the Government should listen to “whatever the scientific advisers are saying in both the pattern of spread of Omicron, and the effect that it’s having on people, their health and the health service” and that the science needs to guide whatever comes next to protect the NHS from what could be a “real collapse”.

However, GP Carl Heneghan said the country is in a different place from last year, and “we are in deep, deep trouble of potentially talking ourselves into annual lockdowns”.

As he was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Heneghan asked: “When are we going to treat people like adults?”, adding that the behaviour of people in England has “already changed”.

He said: “It’s already changed in response to the messages. If you’re in Greater London now, (population in) the workplace is down by 40%. In the City of London, it’s up to 60%. So people are able to respond to information or adapt their behaviour accordingly.

“People will moderate their behaviour accordingly. That’s what we need to trust people to do going forward because that’s the only sustainable policy.

“This time last year, there were over 2,000 people being admitted (to hospital). So we’re in a very different place with the presence of vaccines, the presence of boosters, antivirals on board, and you have to reflect on that information.

“Because what happens is this is as good as it gets.”

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said he cannot give any “hard, fast guarantees” that more restrictions will not be needed ahead of Christmas Day.

However, he added that the country is in a better position “to enjoy Christmas with loved ones this year”.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) University of St Andrews.