Omicron threat: Queen Elizabeth cancels Christmas lunch
In the face of the rising omicron threat, the Queen has cancelled the Christmas lunch she was planning to host on her Sandringham estate for some 50 members of her family.
Instead, she will remain at Windsor Castle where a few close relatives will drop in to ensure she is not alone on Christmas Day.
At a time when many people are unsure whether they should cut back on their Christmas activities, the view among royal watchers is that the Queen has set an example.
Christmas is now as important a festival as Diwali, Durga Puja, Id or Vaisakhi for British Asians. Indian businesses do a roaring trade at this time of year.The lunch at Sandringham, which the Queen very much looks forward to, is attended by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as her cousins, the Gloucesters, the Duke of Kent and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. Like ordinary people, they engage in party games.
According to a royal source, “Her Majesty has decided to celebrate Christmas at Windsor and will not travel to Sandringham. The decision was a personal one after careful consideration and reflects a precautionary approach. There will be family visiting Windsor over the Christmas period and all appropriate guidelines will be followed.”
The Queen, who is 95, has suffered bouts of illness this year.
She is also trying to get used to life without Prince Philip, who passed away, aged 99, in April.
The Sandringham lunch has been a tradition since 1988 because the house has the space to accommodate her growing family.
The source said of the cancellation: “I think in the end Her Majesty just felt that it would be too difficult — not just for the Royals but also the staff — to make Sandringham happen. It’s a decision that hasn’t been taken lightly.”
Darren McGrady, who used to work in the royal kitchens, said the lunch at Sandringham, which follows a visit to the local St Mary Magdalene Church, usually includes “a salad with shrimp or lobster, and a roasted turkey, and all of your traditional side dishes like parsnips, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and Christmas pudding with brandy butter for dessert”.
The Queen’s plans are significant because the prime minister Boris Johnson is said to be reviewing the omicron crisis on an hourly basis.
The cabinet met on Monday but decided not to introduce any further restrictions for the moment.
The latest coronavirus statistics showed there had been a further 91,743 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK as of 9am on Tuesday. The government said a further 44 people had died. But the prediction from scientists is grim – unless more restrictions are introduced immediately.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said there had been 8,044 additional confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, bringing the total confirmed cases of the variant in the UK to 45,145.
Cabinet office minister Steve Barclay highlighted the “economic consequences” of more restrictions on Tuesday. “The Prime Minister has given a commitment that where there are additional regulations bought forward that parliament would be recalled in order that members of parliament can scrutinise and debate those issues, but we are not at that stage.
“'We are looking closely at the data and we need to recognise there are economic consequences to further restrictions. We’re acutely aware that, as a consequence of plan B, we have seen significant behaviour change.
“You see that for example, in restaurant bookings. That is why the chancellor (Rishi Sunak) has been engaging with industry leaders.”
He added that the government was “keen to keep businesses open” and that hospitality firms “should continue to plan for the bookings they have”.