ON the evening of Thursday, December 9, Public Health Scotland (PHS) issued a news release urging people to defer their Christmas parties.

No data or empirical analysis was published to justify this advice or explain why it was still safe to attend large-scale music concerts or football matches with up to 50,000 fans.

Dr Nick Phin of PHS said: “We still need to learn more about the severity of disease caused by Omicron and the effectiveness of vaccines, but there are important things that we can do to help protect ourselves and our families now. To help minimise the further spread of Covid-19, and Omicron in particular, I would strongly urge people to defer their Christmas parties to another time.”

Later that evening, Leon Thompson, UKHospitality’s Executive Director for Scotland, said the PHS announcement had caused an immediate effect: “Within minutes of their statement being issued, businesses were receiving cancellations, leaving Christmas and Hogmanay trade in tatters.

“Businesses take up to a third of their annual revenue at this time of year.”

The following afternoon, the First Minister endorsed the PHS statement at her televised Covid briefing and asked workplaces to “defer any planned festive gatherings”.

She warned of the risk posed by the new Omicron variant and explained she was pressing the UK Government for business financial support.

I take no issue with this public health message – although the contradictions between what are now safe social activities and what aren’t appear arbitrary and counterintuitive – rather, my difficulty is with the execution of this message and policy.

In the real world, people book office Christmas lunches or evening parties many weeks, if not months, in advance.

Many venues will have a no-refund policy or a contract that only permits changes within a short period from when the booking was made.

Everyone knows this, right? Unless you’re the Grinch living in solitude outside of Whoville. So why tell everyone to reschedule their office Christmas party when so many businesses would simply say “nope, we can’t do this, sorry”.

I can provide a case in point. Govan Law Centre (GLC) had booked the a hotel for last Friday with almost 30 staff attending.

At the start of last week, bookings of 120 covers for the hotel party evening had dropped to around 50, and many GLC staff wanted to pull out too, which would have left the venue teetering with a couple of dozen guests if any.

Colleagues had a number of reasons for being unable to attend our Christmas party in light of the Scottish Government’s message. Fear of transmitting Covid to elderly or frail loved ones, fear for their own health and safety, or concerns with respect to vulnerable members of their household with underlying health conditions.

We respectfully asked the hotel to allow us to reschedule our Christmas party to a safer date in the New Year.

They suggested changing the date from Friday to the weekend – which was beyond ludicrous. We pressed them for a written response to our request and so far, they have declined to provide a written explanation. Suffice to say we won’t be using the hotel anytime soon.

All of this could have been avoided of course. The Scottish Government could have used its emergency Covid-19 legal powers to enable consumers in Scotland to reschedule hospitality bookings or seek a refund in light of its advice on the Omicron variant’s threat to public health.

It has done this in multiple different ways over the last 21 months.

For example, most students in university or college accommodation have contracts for the full academic year that cannot be cancelled once you move into halls of residence. Last year the Scottish Parliament passed a legal rule that enabled students to get out of leases for reasons related to Covid-19 advice.

How many charities and small to medium businesses across the country have paid for Christmas parties and have now lost all of their money? Ironically, the hospitality sector is to be given £66 million from the Scottish Government to off-set Christmas party cancellations as part of a £100m fund.

Some of that fund should be made available to consumers who’ve been refused a rescheduled date or refund. The alternative is suing for a refund using the 2015 Consumer Rights Act – but how many will do that? There are of course no guarantees of success.

This burach should and could have been avoided by the use of Scottish Government Covid-19 legal powers in the execution of public health advice on Omicron.

The Grinch has stolen our collective office Christmas dinners and the party is sadly over.