'Cancellations began to arrive within minutes' Hospitality fury at postpone Christmas parties advice

Health chiefs have urged Scots to cancel Christmas parties amid rising concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant.

The call from Dr Nick Phin, the director of public health science and medical director at Public Health Scotland, came as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is set to give a televised briefing on the pandemic today.But it has infuriated hospitality leaders who said cancellations began to arrive “within minutes” of the statement last night, adding that Christmas and Hogmanay trade had been left “in tatters”.The First Minister briefed opposition party leaders yesterday on the latest situation in Scotland, ahead of today’s briefing. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tightened rules in England, bringing them further into line with existing measures north of the border.

In his plea to Christmas revellers last night, Dr Phin said: “There is much that we still need to learn about Omicron, but early evidence suggests that this new Covid variant is much more transmissible.

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“The impact of this transmissibility has been seen in recent weeks, with a number of Omicron outbreaks linked to parties. We still need tolearn more about the severity of disease caused by Omicron and the effectiveness of vaccines, but there are important things that we can do to help protect ourselves and our families now.“I appreciate that everyone is keen to celebrate this festive season, particularly after the pressures of the last 20 months, but by postponing some plans we can all do our bit to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”

Hospitality chiefs have reacted with fury at the advice to postpone Christmas parties

The health body urged people to test at least twice weekly with lateral flow devices, and each time they are socialising with people outside their household.

It also said that as well as vaccinating and getting boosters, people should follow other public health advice including handwashing and wearing face-masks.

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Public health advice is rapidly developing given the fast pace of the spread of this new variant. We would encourage everyone to follow the advice from Public Health Scotland.”

Leon Thompson, UKHospitality’s Executive Director for Scotland, said the move had jeopardised the survival of businesses.

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“Hospitality businesses in Scotland are already under severe financial pressure and this advice from Public Health Scotland for people to abandon their plans for Christmas parties is already hitting our sector hard.

“Within minutes of their statement being issued, businesses were receiving cancellations, leaving Christmas and Hogmanay trade in tatters. Businesses take up to a third of their annual revenue at this time of year.

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"Public Health Scotland has single-handedly jeopardised the survival of businesses and the jobs people rely on.

“This came just after the delivery of the Scottish Budget which offered little hope to our beleaguered sector. However, with little financial support on offer, the Scottish Government is still happy to start considering a tourist tax again, burdening our sector further.

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“We need support and a joined-up approach from our government - not punishment. Hospitality businesses across the country are justified in feeling outraged.”

Jillian Evans, head of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, said that the PHS announcement was an appeal, rather than an instruction.

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She said: "With many reports of super-spreader events - with Omicron being the cause of a lot of the transmission and linked to Christmas parties - it seems right to issue an appeal.

"It's not telling people not to have their Christmas parties but it's appealing to people's better nature, if you can, do the right thing."

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Scotland yesterday recorded 16 coronavirus deaths and 3,196 new cases in the previous 24 hours.

It means the death toll in Scotland under the daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – now stands at 9,688.

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One case of the new omicron variant of coronavirus was recorded, taking the total to 109.

However the Scottish Government warned this was a “relatively lower number of confirmed cases” due to a change in reporting which comes with a time lag of around two days due to “additional quality control and processing”.

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The government also said that Public Health Scotland was aware that recent processing issues at labs have had an impact on turnaround times resulting in delays between specimens being taken and results being received and reported.

The daily test positivity rate was 8 per cent, down from 8.1 per cent the previous day.

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There were 578 people in hospital on Wednesday with recently confirmed Covid-19, down four on the day before, with 39 in intensive care, down two.