With new tougher measures on mask wearing in shops and on public transport introduced yesterday to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, the Health Secretary urged the public to be “sensible” during the festive season.
Mr Javid insisted people should not change Christmas plans at this stage, but said he would take a lateral flow test (LFT) before attending a large gathering.
He added: “If you are invited to a Christmas party, there’s quite a few people there, maybe you want to take an LFT test before you go. Go to the party, but just be cautious.”
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if he would wear a mask at a party, Mr Javid said: “Maybe. It depends if I am walking around or sitting down. It depends if I’m eating. People just need to make a decision based on the guidance.”
Restaurants, bars and pubs are worried the new measures to tackle the spread of Omicron will lead to a wave of cancellations, hitting the crucial Christmas period.
In other developments:
As the Government geared up to roll out its ambitious jabs programme to offer a booster booking to every adult by the end of January, it was revealed that nine out of 22 confirmed Omicron cases in the UK are in London — two in Barnet, Camden and Westminster, and one in Haringey, Sutton and Wandsworth.
Mr Javid said delivering the Covid booster programme will be a “huge ask” for the NHS, GPs, pharmacies and an army of volunteers. “That is why I am calling it a national mission,” he told Sky News. The NHS is working to temporarily suspend some of the workload of GPs so they can concentrate on the vaccination programme, he added.
Professor Andrew Hayward of University College London, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said there was a need to keep an eye on Omicron growth as “small numbers can turn to big numbers quite quickly”.
Mr Javid said he was not worried about a new “pingdemic” , with people who come into contact with individuals with Omicron having to isolate for 10 days, even if fully vaccinated.
The Health Secretary said the likelihood of another lockdown at Christmas was “very, very low”.
Leading economists at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development raised the alarm over the “polarity” in Covid cases, hospital capacity and vaccination rates around the world. “The harshest scenario is that pockets of low vaccination end up as breeding grounds for deadlier strains of the virus, which go on to damage lives and livelihoods,” they added.
Mr Javid denied rules were broken at alleged parties late last year in Downing Street, insisting they were always followed in No 10, despite Boris Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings flouting them and the Prime Minister’s record on mask wearing.
The return of face coverings on public transport and in shops was overwhelmingly backed by MPs in two votes in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
However, a few dozen MPs rebelled, fearing the new rules on self-isolation will trigger a “pingdemic” causing staff shortages in schools and hospitals.
There has also been anger directed at Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, after she warned people to limit socialising and appeared to encourage working from home.
Mr Javid defended the Government’s decision on masks, saying: “The job of Government is to listen to expert advice and then make a balanced and proportionate judgment.” Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said some NHS organisations had asked staff “not to mix in big groups” in the run-up to Christmas.
Professor Hayward added: “I think there does need to be individual choice in this and people have different perceptions of risk and different levels of desire to go to these events, and I think we should respect that.”
One Tory rebel, Craig Mackinlay, said: “I am concerned we are going to go down the route of the pingdemic earlier in the year where millions of people were taken out of work, schools were closed, and a lot of gold plating went on with the rules where schools went that much further and the NHS virtually closed down again.”