Lincolnshire County Council’s director for public health, Professor Derek Ward, called on people to put the headlines about Downing Street Christmas Parties to one side and act to protect themselves and their loved ones as he welcomed the Government’s announcement around Plan B measures on Thursday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new measures during a press conference on Wednesday night. They include face masks in indoor venues from Friday (with some exemptions), a renewed work from home order from Monday and the introduction of COVID passes for entry into busy venues from next week.
Professor Ward told Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Jaines: “From a public health perspective I welcome it. A lot of what was announced are things that I would be doing or that the county council, for example, are already doing so that’s good.”
The latest news follows a series of headlines about allegations of Downing Street Christmas parties and gatherings within days of restrictions being announced last year. The news has sparked a backlash from both sides of Government and resulted in leaked videos of officials laughing and joking about parties.
The government’s press secretary Allegra Stratton yesterday tearfully resigned in the wake of the potential scandal.
It has resulted in many asking why they should follow the rules if those who make them don’t.
Professor Ward said: “It’s completely understandable that people think like that.
“What I would ask people to do is put that to one side and think about themselves and think about their loved ones and the risks for them.
“What I’m saying is that as your director of public health in Lincolnshire I do not know enough about Omicron yet that I feel comfortable saying you should do X, Y and Z apart from minimise your risk.”
He said the latest measures would help delay the “very rapid spread” of Omicron and give more time to understand the impact.
A key concern for Professor Ward was how the new variant’s infections were doubling every two to three days with 484 cases officially confirmed in the UK yesterday evening and predictions that it could reach 16,000 by the end of next week.
Only one case has been officially confirmed in Lincolnshire, however, Professor Ward said: “I guarantee there are a significantly bigger number than one case of Omicron in Lincolnshire just like there are across the country – we just haven’t picked them up yet.”
He urged people to continue getting their booster jab and keeping to hands, face, space under the new measures.
Asked if people could, or should, attend Christmas parties when they’re being told to work from home, he said: “Everybody’s going to have to make their own choice, but it’s on the balance of risk.”
“If you work in a small office with the same four or five people day in, day out your risk is less than if you’re going to a party with 200 to 300 others”, he said.
“For me, I would want to prioritise seeing my mum, my sisters, my brother over Christmas if I can and so, I’m not going to go into a pub or a restaurant, not that I’ve been invited, with work colleagues that I don’t normally work with when that might risk my ability to go and see my my loved ones over Christmas.
“In terms of where we’ll be at Christmas? Ask me in two weeks I’ll know a lot more about Omicron then.”