Don't take ministers' advice - you should decide what is safe for yourself

Late-night shopping in Ipswich with the town hall and Christmas tree lit-up

Christmas has arrived - but how worthwhile is ministers' advice on dealing with Omicron? - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

A week ago I described the measures taken by the government in the wake of the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 as proportionate and timely. 

I still believe that - but some of the commentary surrounding the situation from ministers over the last few days has been confusing and ill-informed, so I really would not pay any attention to what they are saying.

And there is no doubt that the hospitality sector - or large parts of it - is preparing for a bleak midwinter as Christmas party bookings fall away.

The lack of government support for the sector is likely to see more closures. I just hope banks and other lenders are prepared to be supportive during the difficult early months of 2022.

These are worrying times for the high street again as scientists struggle to work out exactly what the new Omicron variant means for the world moving forward.

It is so new that there is still little definitive data on it. It appears to spread faster and in theory it could be more resistant to current vaccines.

There is anecdotal evidence from South Africa that it causes a milder disease - and at the time I am writing this there were no reports of anyone with the Omicron variant being hospitalised in the UK.

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However, South Africa has a younger population - and it has has a smaller proportion of hospitalisations throughout the pandemic than you get in other countries.

And Omicron was only identified a couple of weeks ago, and hospitalisation of all Covid cases usually comes after about 10 days of infection so we cannot yet be too confident about the seriousness of this.

Therefore it is right for the government to impose tighter restrictions - hopefully by the time the new restrictions are reviewed at the start of Christmas week things should be much clearer.

What has annoyed me is the number of ministers rushing to the airwaves or their favourite print reporters to tell "people" that it's safe to go out partying in the run-up to Christmas.

How can they make a blanket statement like that? It's reasonable for them to say, if asked, whether or not they're going out for an office Christmas bash. But you can't say it's safe for the population as a whole because it depends on personal circumstances.

At the weekend my family went to the excellent Twelve Churches restaurant at Dunwich for Sunday lunch - it was a chance for about a dozen relations to get together for the first time in two years in a spacious, airy restaurant to share a superb meal. 

I think everyone felt very safe. We all exchanged anecdotes about taking lateral flow tests - I don't regret going there for a millisecond.

However, I'm not doing the traditional office "do " this year - the idea of a relaxed evening having a couple of pints at a pub before going into a busy restaurant does cause me some concern.

Not really because of Omicron itself, but because of the fear of being "pinged" 10 days before family members are due to arrive here for Christmas itself.

Had I been 35 years younger without the responsibility of preparing Christmas festivities myself, the decision might have been different - but the idea that it's worth the risk because Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab says it's safe is risible!

Ministers aren't the fount of all knowledge - and if I am going to take advice from anyone I'd rather listen to the likes of Jenny Harries or Chris Whitty, who have urged people to be cautious.

I do sometimes get the impression that ministers' more gung-ho approach is aimed more at avoiding the need to pay compensation to businesses that lose out than any over-riding concern about public health.

One thing that has become clear, though, in all the discussions we've had is the vital role vaccinations have in reducing serious illness. I'm now starting to, rather reluctantly, come to the conclusion that we should think beyond vaccine passports and look at following the lead of Austria and some German states and forcing everyone to have the jab except the tiny minority who are medically exempt.

While some may see this as an attack on civil liberties, living as part of a society does compel one to obey certain laws and in this case the common good far outweighs the objections of ill-informed anti-vaxxers.

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