Professor Chris Whitty has warned people should consider whether to attend parties and events, and to avoid mixing “with people you don’t have to”.
The warning comes as England’s chief medical officer said the country can expect several more weeks where infections reach record levels, as the Omicron variant continues its exponential rise.
The UK recorded the highest daily total of lab-confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic on Wednesday (15 December) when 78,610 new cases were announced.
Prof Whitty said that Omicron was “moving at an absolutely phenomenal pace” and it will only be a short time until the UK gets to “very large numbers” of infections, adding that he thought the variant was a “very serious threat”.
‘Don’t mix with people you don’t have to’
Prof Whitty encouraged people to avoid attending events that are not among the most important to them this Christmas in light of the rising cases.
He told a Downing Street briefing: “I really think people should be prioritising those things – and only those things – that really matter to them.
“Because otherwise the risk of someone getting infected at something that doesn’t really matter to them and then not being able to do the things that matter to them obviously goes up.
“I don’t think you need to be a doctor to think that, I think that’s what most people are very sensibly calculating and that seems to me a sensible approach.”
He also “strongly encouraged” people to take a lateral flow test before meeting up and ensuring there was good ventilation.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson echoed his words and told the public to “think carefully before you go” to celebrations.
However, he declined to go as far as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has issued specific guidance urging people to limit socialising to just three households before and after Christmas.
Mr Johnson said: “I agree totally with Chris about the response we’re already seeing from everybody, our general instinct to be more cautious.
“I said many times that I thought this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas and I stick to that.
“We’re not cancelling events, we’re not closing hospitality, we’re not cancelling people’s parties or their ability to mix.
“What we are saying is think carefully before you go. What kind of event is it? Are you likely to meet people who are vulnerable, are you going to meet loads of people you haven’t met before? And get a test.”
Mr Johnson also insisted that the government’s Plan B measures, which include the requirement for Covid passes in England to enter nightclubs and large events, was the right approach to take, adding that getting a booster will “provide an excellent level of protection”.
The UK government is aiming to offer a booster dose to all eligible adults by 31 December as part of the “national mission” to tackle the Omicron outbreak.
The PM added: “While hospital admissions are going up nationwide, we’re starting to see admissions coming down among some of the more vulnerable older age groups where we’ve already got those boosters in arms.
“People have responded with an amazing spirit of duty and obligation to others and I want to say that each and every one of you who rolls up your sleeve to get jabbed is helping this national effort.”
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