People in the UK should not kiss people they don’t know this Christmas, a Conservative government minister has said.
Appearing on ITV’s Peston show, Work and Pensions secretary Therese Coffey said: “I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe, you don’t need to do things like that.”
Coffey continued: “But I think we should all be trying to enjoy the Christmas ahead of us and that’s why we’re working so hard to get the deployment of as many vaccines as possible.”
She later tweeted to clarify that she was specifically talking about kissing strangers.
Asked whether staff members could kiss at the Labour Christmas party, party leader Keir Starmer responded: “I don’t think it’s the role of government to dictate who people can kiss or not kiss, and I was quite surprised to see that suggestion come out of government.”
Coffey’s comments come during mixed messaging from the UK government after COVID-related restrictions were imposed following the emergence of the Omicron variant.
This week Dr Jenny Harries, the head of the UK’s Health Security Agency, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “particularly around Christmas we tend to socialise more so I think all of those will need to be taken into account.”
She added: “If we all decrease our social contacts a little bit, actually that helps to keep the variant at bay.”
The same day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a Downing Street briefing that the public should not follow that advice, and that “I’m still confident that this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas, and that remains my view.”
He added: “What we are doing is trying to take a balanced and proportionate approach to the particular risk that seems to be posed by Omicron – certainly is posed by Omicron – focused, in particular, on measures at the border.”
In response to the Omicron variant, the UK is accelerating its COVID vaccine booster programme and has strengthened rules around testing for people returning to the UK. It has also introduced quarantine rules from certain countries, as well as reintroducing rules around wearing masks in public transport and shops in England.