HUNDREDS of Christmas party bookings have been cancelled in Dorset amid “mixed messages” over Covid – but many people have decided to “press on and have a great time”.

Downing Street has this week slapped down a top adviser and one of its own ministers after they suggested curbs on socialising because of the Omicron variant.

Andy Lennox, who runs the Zim Braai and Nusara restaurants and leads the industry group Wonky Table, saw 250 people’s bookings cancelled this week after Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK’s Health Security Agency, suggested people should not socialise unnecessarily.

“It’s just a completely mixed message. You’ve got the government on the one hand saying ‘Get out, have fun, be safe’ at hospitality venues, which are safe, and then on the other hand you’ve got somebody turning around and saying ‘Don’t go out’,” he said.

“There needs to be a very clear message that you do not need to cancel your Christmas party. Hospitality is safe and that’s it. By cancelling your Christmas party, you are effectively putting hospitality businesses into an emergency state again.

“Some big firms want to cancel because they feel it’s the right thing to do, or it’s a head office decision or whatever, but that doesn’t mean Christmas is off for everybody. Come out in your sixes or eights. Have a smaller Christmas party but you’ve got to be back.”

Kris Gumbrell, Bournemouth-based chief executive of the Brewhouse & Kitchen group, said Dr Harries’ remarks had “caused a lot of distress and damage, and probably hundreds of millions of pounds of lost revenue to already exhausted businesses”.

“We have had some sizeable cancellations, mainly larger organisations, and state-run entities such as schools and NHS, and also large supermarkets,” he said.

“Many are deferring until early in the new year, so the decorations won’t be going back in the loft on January 3.

“We had a feeling that groups would be smaller and earlier so that’s where our focus was.”

But he said the government’s reaction to Dr Harries’ comments – along with reports that Downing Street staff parties took place last year – “seems to have galvanised many parties to press on and have a great time”.

“The spirit of ‘sod it’ has set in, talking to many guests, and you can’t blame them,” he said.

Mark Cribb, founder of the Urban Guild group of venues in Bournemouth, said bookings were strong.

“We are definitely getting customers calling us to have a chat but given the reassurance of our protocols and how many thousands of people we’ve looked after safely so far through the pandemic, once reassured they are excited about coming out for a celebration and some normality,” he said.

“Clearly the governments confusing and sometimes contradictory messages are not helpful but luckily most intelligent people are happy to assess their own levels of risk and decide how to behave.”

After contradicting Dr Harries earlier this week, Downing Street yesterday rejected suggestions by business minister George Freeman that employers should consider not having a Christmas party or replacing it with a smaller gathering.

The prime minister’s spokesman said: “There is nothing in the rules to prevent anyone from having Christmas parties or gathering in that way.”