Larger businesses may consider cancelling their staff Christmas parties, a minister has said after revealing his own event will be held on Zoom.
Just two days after the Prime Minister urged people to carry on as normal with their Christmas plans, business minister George Freeman suggested parties may depend on how many people are attending.
He said it is down to firms to decide, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Individual businesses, in the end, have to make judgments on what is appropriate internally.
“It slightly depends on the nature of the business. For many small businesses, four or five staff, who are working together every day anyway, gathering to have a drink isn’t a big step up in risk.
“But some companies might normally bring hundreds of people in from around the world to a big party, and they may decide, this year, is that sensible given the pandemic and given where we are?
“In the end, I think business people know how to make those decisions. The Government has set out clear guidance.”
Mr Freeman said he has cancelled his in-person Christmas party with staff this year and is instead planning a proper gathering in the spring.
Asked what he made of Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey advising people to avoid “snogging under the mistletoe” this Christmas, he joked on LBC radio: “I haven’t been kissed under the mistletoe for years.”
But he added: “We’re trying not to tell everyone who they should kiss or where they should go.
“I think Therese Coffey was making the point that we’re all going to have to exercise some common sense and I think the British public know that, in the end, it is up to all of us.
“If we can prevent the virus from spreading, we’ll all be able to enjoy more freedoms and that’s why we have taken the steps we have.
“I can tell you that my parliamentary team and I normally have a Christmas party.
“We’ve decided this year that it is probably sensible to do it by Zoom and wait for the spring. It won’t be the best party in the world.
“But… we don’t want to be telling every individual business what they should or shouldn’t be doing. It is a matter for them.”
Speaking to Times Radio, the minister stressed the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) would not be arranging a formal party for its staff.
“I can tell you the department of business, we won’t be having a big Christmas party this year. Nobody would expect us to,” he said.
It comes as the executive chairman of a major advertising agency said there has been a “sharp series of cancellations” in Christmas parties since the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Sir Martin Sorrell, of S4Capital, said there is “extreme” uncertainty as he urged the Government to offer clearer guidance to businesses.
Asked if they are cancelling office parties, he told the Today programme: “It’s not so much what we’re doing as what we see our clients doing and other people.
“The answer is they are doing that, they are cancelling, (there has) been quite a sharp series of cancellations since this happened just, what, three, four, five days ago.
“The uncertainty is extreme and Government policy, understandably, I mean to be a little bit sympathetic to the Government, it is an extremely difficult situation.
“We have been through this before with Delta and the previous variants, so you would have thought the Government would be a little bit more prepared for what may or may not happen in terms of scenario planning.”
Meanwhile, a scientist assessing vaccines said his group is ready to move “very quickly” on deciding whether children aged five to 12 should be given a Covid jab in the UK.
Professor Adam Finn, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said it is waiting for approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before taking a judgment on whether vaccines should be offered.
The MHRA is expected to rule shortly on whether the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is safe and effective in young children. The vaccine has already been approved for youngsters in the EU and US.
But Prof Finn told BBC Breakfast there is a “law of diminishing returns” when it comes to young children as they are largely protected from serious Covid-19.
“As you work down through the ages, there’s a kind of law of diminishing returns because, luckily for us, children are very seldom seriously affected by this virus,” he said.
“What you get by immunising children primarily is indirect protection of adults, and the extent to which we can do that and protect adults by avoiding them being infected by children with the current vaccines is, is still quite uncertain.
“So that’s the balance… we’ve got good evidence now that this vaccine, even at a low dose, produces a really good protective immune response in children and produces many fewer side effects because of the lower dose.
“But the question is really should that be our focus right now or should we really be focusing on adults who are the ones who much more commonly get seriously ill?”
However, Prof Finn said the JCVI is ready to act, saying that if the MHRA gives the go-ahead “then this is clearly something we need to engage with and produce an answer on very quickly because people will want to know.”
It comes as the boss of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Dr Albert Bourla, said annual vaccines to tackle Covid-19 are likely to be needed.
Asked about that prospect, Prof Finn said: “It’s hard to say whether we’ll all need boosters indefinitely. It really does depend on how much further this virus can evolve.
“Just as with flu, the flu virus changes every year and we have to reformulate the vaccine and re-immunise people who are at risk.
“So that could happen with coronavirus, but whether it will require everybody to get boosters every year, I think that’s really unclear at this point in time.”