Action over variant shows government keen to avoid Christmas calamity of 2020

Boris Johnson held out until the final hours before Christmas last year, as ministers promised five days of festive family gatherings, but a new variant began to gather pace.

The ministers were bullish about going ahead with Christmas gatherings this year despite rising cases in Europe. The invites for the Christmas drinks dos have already been sent.

No 10 has been encouraged that a concerted push for the booster jab programme has seen take-up increase and, although case numbers remain high, deaths and hospitalisations are being kept roughly stable by the vaccine programme.


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Scientists warn that people should not make Christmas plans, but caution is not a word you hear often on ministers' lips.

When he is asked about Christmas once a week, Johnson always hedges his comments with the caveat that new versions could throw plans off course. The worst news came from South Africa, where a variant that is more transmissible than others has the potential to evade immunity.

South Africa was placed on the red list from midday on Friday, along with six other countries. The variant poses the most serious threat to the UK's vaccine programme, according to sources in the government.

Despite the fast action, the UK has recently lowered its guard against new variants. Travelers who test positive for the disease can take a test on day two when they return from abroad, but they must also take a PCR.

It means that there is a delay in getting to know the origin of any new variant because the tests are thrown away.

It's too early to say how big of a threat the variant poses to Christmas plans. It will be a huge blow to more than 100,000 South Africans living in the UK who have been kept apart from family for almost the entire Pandemic.