Queen Elizabeth II Cancels Christmas Plans Over Soaring Omicron COVID Cases

Queen Elizabeth II has canceled the pre-Christmas lunch she holds for family every year as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 sweeps Britain.

The 95-year-old monarch made the decision as infection rates soar across the U.K. England's chief medical officer warned on Wednesday that hospital admissions could rise above the previous record, set in January.

The lunch for the queen's extended family is traditionally held in London in the week before Christmas, although this year it was planned for Windsor Castle where Elizabeth has been living during the pandemic.

The royal family's celebrations on Christmas Eve, when they give out presents, and Christmas Day, when they would normally attend church and greet well-wishers at Sandringham, are still up in the air.

A palace source told Newsweek: "While there is regret that it is canceled, there is a belief it is the right thing to do for all concerned."

The decision was said to be precautionary and taken on the basis that the Christmases of too many people would have been put at risk if the event had gone ahead.

Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, said during a televised address on Sunday: "No one should be in any doubt—there is a tidal wave of Omicron coming."

On December 15, chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned Britons to prepare for a major surge in cases. He said: "This is a really serious threat at the moment. The how big a threat, there are several things we don't know, but all the things that we do know are bad."

So far, the country has not been ordered to cancel Christmas parties and the prime minister is under intense pressure from his own Conservative Party not to impose another lockdown.

It comes against the backdrop of a scandal over allegations that government officials held Christmas parties last year, when they were outlawed. The prime minister has been forced to deny that he broke any rules over these events. The head of the Civil Service, Simon Case, a former private secretary to Prince William, is investigating the reports.

This year, the official advice is to attend only the most important festive events and scale back on the rest. It is in this context that the queen has opted to cancel the lunch, demonstrating to the public how serious the crisis is.

This is not the first time the queen has led by example during the COVID pandemic. In April, she sat alone during a scaled-down funeral service for her husband Prince Philip.

Elizabeth also showed leadership during the early days of the crisis, with a video address evoking the popular wartime song "We'll Meet Again," by Vera Lynn.

She said: "While we have faced challenges before, this one is different. This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavor, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal. We will succeed—and that success will belong to every one of us.

"We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again."

The pre-Christmas lunch is the event where, in 2017, Princess Michael of Kent wore a brooch that critics described as racist.

It was Meghan Markle's first royal Christmas and Princess Michael, wife of the queen's cousin, wore a Blackamoor brooch. These pieces of jewelry, fashionable in the 17th and 18th centuries, present exoticized portrayals of African men and are now considered racist artifacts.

Her spokesperson later told the BBC she was "very sorry and distressed that it has caused offence."

Queen Elizabeth II's Speech to COP26
Queen Elizabeth II's video message, filmed at Windsor Castle, to the opening day of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow on November 1. She has canceled her pre-Christmas lunch. Buckingham Palace via Getty Images via Getty Images