uk covid-1639669506442
People enjoy the fake snow in Covent Garden, in London, on Dec. 16, 2021. Image Credit: AP

London: Britons including the Queen were shifting plans on Thursday ahead of Christmas, as soaring Omicron COVID-19 cases led to cancelled parties, advice to “prioritise” certain social interactions and France banning UK visitors.

Britain reported a record 88,376 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, up from Wednesday’s 78,610. The number of deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test was slightly lower at 146, compared with 165 on Wednesday.

However, Queen Elizabeth II was among those changing plans, cancelling her traditional pre-Christmas family lunch next week as a precautionary measure, even as Prime minister Boris Johnson said such gatherings could still go ahead.

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty nonetheless urged people in the run-up to the festive period to “prioritise what really matters to them and then cut down on the things that don’t”.

“I wouldn’t want to say to people they should do a particular thing,” he told a panel of MPs, insisting the government and its advisers like him were united in their approach.

“I think it really should be for people to make those choices.”

Meanwhile Paris said it would ban non-essential travel to and from the UK from the weekend, for both unvaccinated and fully jabbed non-residents, in a bid to curb the spread of Omicron cases.


The sudden announcement reportedly sparked anxiety and even panic among would-be travellers scrambling to cross the Channel in time for Christmas.

“I have friends who are panicking,” London-based Marie Geoffroy, 43, told AFP at St Pancras station as she prepared to board a Eurostar train.

“It’s anxiety-provoking, these last-minute changes, it makes you feel like you’re being held hostage,” she added.

“I know lots of people who have been able to change their tickets because they can, but others can’t afford it.”

The UK government has updated its guidance since last week to advise people to work from home if they can, while mandating they must wear masks in some settings.

But it has not recommended cancelling hospitality events like Christmas parties, with Johnson preferring to urge people to get booster vaccines, Covid tests and act cautiously.

He has set a highly ambitious target of offering a third vaccine dose to all adults by the end of the month, requiring around a million jabs a day.

Health officials have been scaling up their efforts through this week, saying Thursday they had administered nearly 750,000 into arms the previous day.

But public health messaging and compliance has been undermined by weeks of controversy around claims that Johnson’s staff held parties last Christmas, despite telling the public to cancel theirs.

‘You’ve got to carry on’

Meanwhile, in a sign of discontent with the embattled prime minister - who has faced weeks of wide-ranging scandals - around 100 Conservatives lawmakers voted against introducing vaccine passes for nightclubs and sports venues.

The measures passed anyway with the support of the opposition Labour party.

As the case count continues to climb, pubs, theatres and other entertainment venues have reported rising cancellations - and concerns about their viability.

“We had some cancellations here,” Patrick Mullighan, 64, owner of the White Hart pub in east London, told AFP.

He said his chef had caught the virus, forcing the kitchen to close, while 25 bookings for this Sunday had dropped to 10.

“And it’s like this all the way the through the book,” he added, estimating turnover for the period would be down by around a quarter.

“It represents a lot of money but... as long as people are still buying drinks, that will be good. I’m always worried but what can we do? You’ve got to carry on.”

Meanwhile grassroots music venues are at risk of “permanent closure” after attendances dropped by nearly a quarter in the last week, according to industry body the Music Venue Trust (MVT).

Productions of hit West End musicals are also suffering, with Hamilton and The Lion King announcing further cancellations due to “ongoing Covid-enforced absences” in the cast and crew.