UK firms are cancelling mass Christmas parties as fears mount over the new Omicron variant — with experts warning they will need at least two weeks to work out the impact of the mutant strain.

Companies have had to abandon large parties due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, they are hosting smaller gatherings in their departments.

This comes at a time when UK Hospitality stated that businesses recovering from the pandemic have ‘invested heavily’ in making sure their facilities are safe for visitors with ventilation, hygiene, and sanitation.

Osborne Clarke London, an international law firm, stated that they now prefer ‘low key celebrations’ to ‘big shindigs.

Ray Berg, managing partner at the firm, stated to MailOnline: “We spoke with our employees about their preferred celebrations for local teams. So we are choosing low-key festivities over big parties this year. 

“Given the new variant’s emergence, we believe that we have made the right choice. Nobody wants to lock down Christmas again.”  

The emergence of the new Omicron variant has forced companies to cancel large parties in favour of smaller department gatherings. (Stock image)

Large parties have been cancelled by companies in favor of small departmental gatherings. (Stock image)

Chief executive of UK Hospitality Kate Nicholls says businesses have 'invested heavily' in making their venues safe for the public

UK Hospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls claims that businesses have “invested heavily” in making venues safer for the public

London’s top events officer stated that clients are stalling on balance payments to New Year’s Parties.

Then they said, ‘I feel that there is a lot of people who are stalling on balance payments to New Year parties. Corporations who plan bashes will be in panic by Friday, I believe.

EY, the UK chairman of accounting firm EY, stated that they will not host any Christmas parties in this country due to infection fears.

Hywel Bal, UK chair, said that the company used to hold large London office parties attended by thousands. [of people]We’re not going to do that. 

Meanwhile Phil Urban, chief executive of the pub chain Mitchells & Butlers, said he had seen a rise in smaller party bookings.

He said: ‘We are expecting fewer big office parties: venues that would typically have big office parties and do £300,000 a week I can’t see that happening this year.’

And chief executive of the catering group Compass, Dominic Blakemore, said that companies were ‘reluctant to fully commit to [Christmas bookings]At this point.

UK Hospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls today stated that the businesses had “invested heavily” in making the venues safer for people during the pandemic.

Good Morning Britain was told by her: It was our condition to reopen on July 9, that we had met all these measures. These are part of health and safety regulations, in risk assessments we must carry out under Plan A and in building control.

Our members are aware of the importance of hospitality, and have made significant investments to help them comply and ensure that they can be open and safe.

“SAGE” published guidance that stated that it was safer to host guests than at home. This is because of the ventilation, hygiene, and sanitation measures that were put into place.  

Events industry collapsed last year after the Pandemic and Government lockdowns. UK Hospitality, an industry body, recently reported that the current shortage of staff is around 10%. 

Figures from industry group show that approximately 84 percent of hospitality companies have openings for front of house personnel, while 67% need to hire chefs. 

Hotel and restaurant managers stated earlier this month that they had reduced the sizes of their menus, and turned down large reservations because of difficulties in recruiting staff for the holiday season. 

Steve Ellis (the Bailiwick Free House boss in Egham) said that he’d already decided to reduce his staff ahead of Christmas.

He was previously employed at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant Gordon Ramsay, which is Michelin-starred in Chelsea.

MailOnline was informed by him that there is a major staffing problem at present.

According to industry experts, what is the cause of the shortage in hospitality staffing?

This was an issue that existed in the sector before the outbreak. Between January and March 2020 there were more than 81,000 vacancies in this sector.

Lockdown caused a huge drop in vacancy rates as many hospitality companies were closed and employees were placed on furlough.

According to bosses in the industry, furlough was a time when staff were able to stay at home and spend more quality time with their family. Thousands of people went looking for new employment opportunities with more social hours after lockdown was lifted.

Hospitality businesses were the first to open after lockdown was lifted. There is a shortage of labour in the UK. MailOnline was told by Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality’s boss, that workers previously working in hospitality jumped to new areas rather than waiting for restaurants and pubs to reopen.

UKHospitality reports that thousands of international workers working in hospitality returned home to their families after the pandemic. Covid travel restrictions made it hard for many to return to the UK since.

Students from abroad were not allowed to study in the UK. UKHospitality says that these students were among thousands who would have been employed in the hospitality industry.

– Brexit will have exacerbated the problem, industry bosses say, because firms can no longer easily bring in foreign workers from the EU to plug the gap in the labour market.

We won’t be able to find anyone because a large number of part-time employees are students.

“We don’t normally open on Christmas or Boxing Day, but this year we will. This is just too risky and it puts everyone under too much stress with current staffing.

“We normally have two holiday menus but this year we will only be doing one. Some have tried to be aggressive, but many people don’t realize how difficult it is right now. 

Simon Cotton is the HRH group managing director. He said that his six restaurants and hotels in Yorkshire were being more strict about bookings in the run up to Christmas.

According to him, the company, along with the rest of the industry, is currently at 10% down in staffing and struggling for new talent.

The White Hart Hotel, Harrogate, is one of the six properties that make up this company. It employs approximately 250 staff across all six of its hotels. However, it currently has 220 employees, according to Cotton.

MailOnline was told by Mr Cotton (51), that they had received a request for 100 persons a couple of weeks back. They wanted a 3-course choice menu, and I had to inform them that we don’t have enough staff.

“We have to be more specific about what we do because we lack the necessary staffing.

“We have already booked all of the six-weeks… however, we had to decrease capacity slightly in order to give better quality because people are expecting it more than ever.

Cotton has worked in hospitality for 30 years and said that the current staff shortage was the worst he’d ever witnessed.

Center Parcs in another popular tourist resort said that its Christmas operations would be reduced due to a lack of staff. 

A spokesperson for the group said:  ‘Like many businesses across the country, we are finding recruitment challenging as we continue to tread carefully away from the pandemic.

“Our first priority is the safety of our employees and guests. However, we also ensure that thousands of families continue to enjoy the Center Parcs experience every week.

“In an effort to ensure we keep our high standards in all areas, we have reduced the occupancy rates in all our villages since the summer. These will continue for the rest of the year.

“We look forward to welcoming you to our Winter Wonderland” and to your festive getaways.

As businesses contemplate scaling back or cancelling their Christmas and New Year’s parties, Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said companies should consider arranging Christmas parties for the first week of December.  

A recent survey by the ride hailing app FREE NOW has found that 33 per cent of working Brits are hesitant to hug and embrace colleagues at the Christmas party. (Stock image)

FREE NOW recently conducted a survey and found that 33% (33%) of British workers are hesitant about hugging or embracing colleagues at the Christmas party. (Stock image)

Scottish health officials announced four cases in Lanarkshire and two in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area today (top)

Today, Scottish health officials revealed four cases of illness in Lanarkshire (top) and two in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

He said: ‘People going home for the week of Christmas, if they will be staying in the same house as someone vulnerable or very elderly, may want to avoid crowds for a couple of weeks before that.

“While there are very few risks, people who wish to take extra precautions should plan Christmas parties in the first week.

Expert on infections, Professor Catherine Noakes suggested people limit their attendance at parties. 

She said, “It’s all about thinking about where your priorities are.” 

A recent survey by the ride hailing app FREE NOW has found that 33 per cent of working Brits are hesitant to hug and embrace colleagues at the Christmas party, with 48 per cent saying they will be hand sanitising throughout the event.

Meanwhile 30 per cent said they will be wearing a face mask on entering and leaving the venue, and 20 per cent claim they won’t be shaking anyone’s hand.

Yet, the uncertainty aside, 76% said that their bosses went above and beyond for this year’s Christmas get-together. 

One in ten (11%) employees stated that they plan to meet in a bar or a pub, while a fifth (20%) of them said the same.

Syira Ahsan was the clinical lead for urgent care and warned of potential risks that Christmas parties may pose to Covid cases.   

On Good Morning Britain, she stated that although we have received second doses to 70% of the vaccines, Public Health England statistics show that there is still a one in five chance for developing Covid.

“Having had conversations with restaurant and public sector owners, they have stated that people are becoming more aware of where they shouldn’t be going at this time of the year. They’re also aware that it’s winter and that there’s a lot of pressures on the NHS. So they’ve stayed away. 

Dr. Robertson stated that, if there is a sudden spike in the number of people visiting the UK for Christmas, the NHS will not be able to cope.

Elle continued, “Covid spreads by airborne transmission via droplet diffusion, which is worse in areas that are close together and poorly ventilated.

Broadmasters was an outdoor surfing festival held in August. It is a great place to ventilate. However, you experienced a spike of over 5,000 Covid from that festival. Cornwall could not cope. It was because I was living in Cornwall during that time. 

The doctor added:  ‘Really, we’ve already hit 95 per cent bed occupancy within the NHS before we’ve hit winter peaks. That’s unprecedented. This is unprecedented.

“So, if there is a surge in demand due to Christmas celebrations, then the NHS will not be able to cope.”

Today, the first ministers of Scotland and Wales called on Boris Johnson to extend self-isolation for travellers to eight days — as Scotland confirmed six cases of the Omicron variant including some with no links abroad.

Nicola Sturgeon advised Scots that they should immediately start working remotely in a press conference today. This was a sign of the dangers ahead for England.

In areas that the super-strain has been detected, she also stated that surge testing will be conducted. The super-strain is spreading rapidly in the area, which has raised concerns.

Mark Drakeford, Ms Sturgeon, and Mark Drakeford called for an immediate COBRA meeting of all four UK states to determine how to limit the spread.

According to Scottish officials, four cases were found in Lanarkshire. The other two infections were located in Greater Glasgow and Clyde. After three cases were discovered in England this weekend, there now are nine confirmed cases in the UK.