LONDON — Move over, holiday cheer. A British minister has a word of advice for people as the festive season gets underway: Don’t kiss under the mistletoe.

Thérèse Coffey, a member of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet responsible for work and pensions, told people not to smooch as the omicron coronavirus variant adds a new layer of fear to the pandemic.

“I don’t think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe. Don’t need to do things like that,” she said in an interview with ITV, using British slang for kissing.

“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 added.

Her comments prompted a reaction on social media, with many saying they would probably ignore the advice and that loneliness and protecting mental health were important during the pandemic.

One person tweeted: “I shall kiss whoever I like and as often as I like.” Another said: “Some things are more important than this virus. Let’s stay sensible, but stay human too. … For some lonely people, it’ll be really important.”

The front page of the Daily Mail newspaper on Thursday read: “Stop being Christmas killjoys, ministers!” Another person online wrote: “It is NOT for the state to tell people whether they can kiss or hug!! Normal human interaction is for individuals to decide.”

Others also pointed to the fact that earlier this year, Britain’s health minister made headlines when he quit after images emerged of him kissing and embracing a colleague in his office while covid restrictions were in place, enraging the public.

Coffey later tweeted her advice again, asking people not to “kiss with people you don’t know,” and urged them to get booster shots “so we can all enjoy a proper Christmas knees up” — using a British term to describe a lively party.

Last year, in a bid to stop the spread of the virus, Johnson’s government allowed single-adult households in England to form exclusive “support bubbles” with one other household.

The easing of restrictions followed an earlier change of rules that prohibited two or more people from different households meeting indoors or spending the night in private together — a regulation that attracted widespread mockery on social media of what many dubbed a “sex ban.”

However, in the face of the omicron variant, England has again tightened some social restrictions. he measures include making mandatory the wearing of masks on public transport and in shops. England’s deputy chief medical officer has also warned that “Christmas and indeed all of the darker winter months are potentially going to be problematic.”

But Johnson has struck a more optimistic tone for the festive season. “I think I am going to stick with the formula that I’ve used before, which is I am pretty confident or absolutely confident that this Christmas will be considerably better than last Christmas,” he said at a news conference last month.

He and others are under fire from political opposition lawmakers who have leveled accusations of hypocrisy at Johnson’s government after reports that Christmas parties were held at 10 Downing Street offices during last year’s lockdown — when people in London were not permitted to mix indoors with others outside their household or support bubble. Johnson did not deny that parties were held at his offices but said that no rules were broken.

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