London, December 12: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came under growing pressure on Sunday as an image emerged of another alleged party held at Downing Street in December last year at a time when social mixing was banned due to the COVID-19 lockdown rules.
The Sunday Mirror’ published a picture of Johnson at a so-called Christmas quiz, which it said took place on December 15, 2020.
Downing Street admitted the UK PM “briefly took part virtually” to thank staff for their work during the pandemic.
But the Opposition Labour Party declared it was a breach of the rules in place at the time.
“What do we see in that picture? We see a Prime Minister on a virtual quiz night for 10 to 15 minutes to thank his staff, who by the way, had no choice but to come in every single day,” UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News’ in defence of his boss, the Prime Minister.
Sitting in his office are the two people who are closest working with him, no alcohol on the table, not drinking, on a Zoom call or a teams call, a virtual call respecting the lockdown rules. Many people would have had similar Zoom quiz nights around the country, he said.
The image is from when England was under Tier 2 restrictions, banning indoor household mixing, apart from support bubbles.
Official guidance at the time stated: “You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”
According to the ‘Sunday Mirror’, workers who took part in the Christmas quiz reportedly huddled around computers, with groups said to have broken rules on gatherings, and drinking alcohol bought from a nearby supermarket.
A No. 10 Downing Street statement said: “This was a virtual quiz. Downing Street staff were often required to be in the office to work on the pandemic response so those who were in the office for work may have attended virtually from their desks.
“The Prime Minister briefly took part virtually in a quiz to thank staff for their hard work throughout the year.”
The latest Downing Street party adds to an already brewing controversy around breach of lockdown rules at the Prime Minister’s office after a video emerged earlier of senior staff joking about a “fictional party” on December 18.
It resulted in the tearful resignation of Allegra Stratton, a senior UK government spokesperson.
Another reported Downing Street event an aide’s leaving which is said to have taken place on November 27 was allegedly also attended by the UK Prime Minister, who has since called an internal inquiry led by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to investigate the facts around these alleged gatherings last year.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer declared that it looks as though Johnson had breached the legal COVID restrictions in place at the time.
“To see Downing Street making the rules, then breaking rules, then treating the public as fools and laughing at them, I think runs very, very deep with the British public,” said Starmer.
“The Prime Minister’s lost the authority to lead. He’s so weak, his party’s so divided, he can’t provide the leadership we need at this crucial time. He’s the worst possible leader at the worst possible time, he said.
Johnson also looks set to face a substantial rebellion from within his own Conservative Party, with more than 60 Tory MPs poised to vote against the imposition of extra COVID-19 measures in Parliament next week.
On Friday, 10 Downing Street cancelled its planned 2021 Christmas party later this month amid growing anger over the issue and growing concerns over the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
UK opens up COVID boosters to all over 30s in Omicron fight
Britain’s health authorities said on Sunday that bookings for the COVID booster vaccines for everyone aged 30 and over in England will be open from Monday, as one of the key actions aimed at tackling the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the country.
There are around 7.5 million people aged 30 to 39, and 3.5 million of those are eligible for boosters from Monday, NHS England said. It comes as early analysis shows booster jabs being effective against the Omicron variant, the first cases of which have started being hospitalised now.
There is no reported death from the variant in the UK yet, but experts warn that it is set to take over from Delta as the dominant coronavirus variant by the end of this year.
“The COVID-19 booster programme is accelerating rapidly and more than 22 million people in the UK have already received their top-up, securing vital protection ahead of Christmas, said UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
“This is our national mission the most recent data shows boosters are the essential defence against Omicron and we are doing everything in our power to get jabs into arms as quickly as possible. We are now expanding the offer to over-30s so please come forward as quickly as possible to get boosted and help our country get ahead in this race with the variant, he said.
The expansion of the booster programme follows updated advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), allowing millions more people to book their third top-up dose. The booking can be made two months on from their second dose, which is a month in advance of becoming eligible to receive the jab – a gap set at three months from the second dose by the JCVI.
“Booster vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from this virus and new variants, said UK Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup.
“With the emergence of the new variant and the rising case numbers, there has never been a more important time to get boosted. So when it’s your turn, come forward and book in, added Dr Emily Lawson, head of the NHS COVID-19 Vaccination Programme, who also called on people to volunteer for the National Health Service (NHS) vaccination programme to help out as a vaccinator .
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned that the sheer weight of numbers of people being infected with Omicron means it will find the unvaccinated or people who have had a poor immune response to the vaccine.
“It is now a race between the booster and that protection, and the Omicron variant,” said UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi.
“We are over 20 million (booster jabs) already. We are now in a race to get all adults who are eligible for their booster jab to be boostered as quickly as possible, he said.
On Saturday, the UK recorded another 54,073 COVID-19 infections, including 633 of the Omicron variant. (PTI)