Civil servants have blocked the word ‘Christmas’ from efforts to avert a winter Covid crisis, as they fear it would offend minority religions.
The ban, detailed in emails leaked to The Mail on Sunday, was revealed as Boris Johnson announced tighter travel restrictions and new rules on masks in a bid to limit the spread of the new Omicron variant.
Ministers had also planned a publicity blitz telling students to get tested before returning to their families using the slogan: ‘Don’t take Covid home for Christmas‘ – but it was vetoed by Cabinet Office officials.
The move sparked a row over ‘wokeism’ in the Civil Service – which has been disparagingly nicknamed ‘The Blob’ by critics – with one Muslim Tory MP branding the ban ‘ridiculous’.
The ban by civil servants to block ‘Christmas’ from publicity efforts to avert a winter Covid crisis has been branded as ‘ridiculous’ by Muslim Tory MP Saqib Bhatti (pictured)
Last night, the Prime Minister threw winter travel plans into chaos by announcing that every traveller arriving in the country must self-isolate until they can produce a negative PCR test, and that anybody who came in contact with someone infected with the mutation must stay at home for ten days.
Masks will be compulsory on public transport and in shops, while experts will now consider whether to extend the booster vaccine to all over-18s.
Mr Johnson said: ‘I very much hope that we will find that we continue to be in a strong position and we can lift these measures again, but right now this is the responsible course of action to slow down the seeding and the spread of this new variant and to maximise our defences so that we protect the gains we’ve worked for so hard.’
The Downing Street announcement came after two people in the UK were found to be infected with the new variant – one in Brentwood, Essex, and the other in Nottingham. Both cases are linked and connected to travel in southern Africa.
It is understood that one of those infected was double- vaccinated: their swabs are being studied at the Government’s research laboratory in Porton Down, Wiltshire, and by the vaccine manufacturers AstraZenica and Pfizer.
As part of the attempt to suppress a winter spike, Ministers drew up plans for the ‘Don’t take Covid home for Christmas’ advertising campaign targeting students, to run from December 3 to 17.
But it is being held up by the Cabinet Office on the grounds that it is not ‘inclusive’ enough.
The Government plans to use social media ‘influencers’ on sites such as TikTok, to urge the 1.2 million students who will be travelling home at the end of the term to take a Covid test before they do.
Britain has sequenced two cases of the Omicron variant in Nottingham and Chelmsford, Sajid Javid said today
Another 39,567 Covid cases and 131 deaths were recorded in the UK today. Department of Health officials posted nearly 40,000 daily infections – down 3.36 per cent from 40,941 last Saturday – while the number of people who have died 28 days after testing positive for Covid has also fallen by 12.7 per cent from 150 last week
Office for National Statistics (ONS) data estimated around 862,300 people caught the virus on any given day in the week up to November 20, up 4.5 per cent on the 824,900 the week before
But in an email sent on Thursday, an official said: ‘We have been advised by Cabinet Office that we should not use the word Christmas – as the Government campaign needs to be inclusive and some religions don’t celebrate Christmas…
‘The other option was ‘festive season’ which keeps the emotional motivation. We have gone with ‘Don’t take Covid-19 home for the holidays’ – as it links to school and university Christmas holidays. The alliteration with ‘home’ and ‘holidays’ scans well and is memorable’.
Another official then objects: ‘We don’t refer to Christmas as the holidays (that’s an Americanism). Please can we say, ‘Don’t take Covid-19 home’.’
Last night, Saqib Bhatti, the Conservative MP for Meriden, said: ‘As a Muslim, I find it ridiculous we can’t enjoy this special time of year. I look forward to showing my new son his first Christmas tree. The idea you can’t mention Christmas is completely ridiculous.
‘It’s a time to celebrate, whatever your background. It’s part of the British culture I love. It’s the celebration of all cultures that makes this the most welcoming country in the world.
‘I’m proud of that and proud to celebrate Christmas. The Blob needs to stop waging war on Christmas and get on with delivering for the British people.’
In other developments:
- Health Secretary Sajid Javid used an interview with this newspaper to announce a new ‘NHS Reserves’ programme, modelled on Army reserves, comprising retired medics and logistic experts who can swing into action if the NHS comes under strain in the winter and help deliver vaccines;
- The number of Covid hospital admissions fell 11.2 per cent over the previous seven days to 768 and the number of deaths dropped by 16.8 per cent to 131 – but the number of positive tests rose 8.6 per cent to 39,567;
- The total number of booster doses administered surpassed 17 million, amounting to almost 30 per cent of the over-12s;
- More than ten per cent of the 600 passengers arriving in the Netherlands from South Africa yesterday tested positive for Covid on PCR tests – despite having to provide proof of a negative lateral flow test taken within 24 hours of departure.
Mr Johnson said that the measures will be reviewed in three weeks. The new mask rules are expected to become mandatory within days.
He said: ‘We’re not going to stop people travelling, I want to stress that, but we will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result.
‘We will require all contacts of those who test positive with a suspected case of Omicron to self-isolate for ten days regardless of your vaccination status.
‘We will also go further in asking all of you to help contain the spread of this variant by tightening up the rules on face coverings in shops and on public transport.’