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  • People should avoid "snogging" strangers under the mistletoe, a top UK politician warned.
  • The advice comes amid concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant in the UK and around the world.
  • 32 Omicron cases have now been found in the UK. The variant has spread to 28 countries worldwide.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

People should probably avoid "snogging under the mistletoe" this holiday season, as scientists attempt to learn more about the potential impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant, a senior UK politician said on Wednesday.

Asked if people should be cautious in the coming weeks or carry on with plans unchanged, UK work and pensions minister Thérèse Coffey told ITV's Peston program: "Well, for what it's worth, I don't think there should be much snogging under the mistletoe," referring to a British slang term for kissing.

"You don't need to be doing things like that!" — she said.

32 cases of the Omicron variant have been recorded in the UK so far, Reuters reported on Wednesday. Omicron was declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation last Friday. It has now been detected in 28 countries worldwide, NBC data shows.

It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible, if it escapes the immune protection from vaccines or previous infection, or if it causes symptoms that are different from other variants, Insider's Erin Schumaker previously reported. 

Omicron does, however, carry a set of mutations that are concerning to scientists.

Vaccines provide the best protection against hospitalisation and death, even in the face of the Delta variant, Insider previously reported. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson contradicted a key health adviser about lowering social contacts over the festive season.
Ben Stansall/Getty Images

Coffey's comments drew criticism from Harry Cole, the political editor of the newspaper The Sun, who said in a tweet on Wednesday that her words amounted to "more mixed messaging" from the government.

Cole's comment came after the UK's prime minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday contradicted advice from Jenny Harries, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency.

Harries said on Tuesday that the public should "decrease our social contacts a little bit," as per the Financial Times, while Johnson said that people should not cancel Christmas plans, The Guardian reported.

Coffey later tweeted in response to Cole's tweet that people should avoid kissing strangers specifically, but that the government was working "exceptionally hard" so that everyone could enjoy a "proper Christmas knees up," a British saying meaning a lively and energetic party with dancing.

The UK reported 48,374 COVID cases and 171 deaths on Wednesday, when the most recent figures were published. There have been some 305,000 cases in the UK over the past seven days.

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