ORGANISERS of a popular Christmas event remain hopeful it will go ahead this year - even if it is forced to be held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The annual Christmas lights switch-on in Braintree town centre has often coincided with a street market event in early December to draw to boost footfall and draw in large crowds to the town.

But social distancing measures put in place to slow the spread of Covid-19 mean it is unlikely the switch-on will take place in its usual format.

Braintree Council says it is still planning to host the event but has admitted residents may have to watch online, rather than attend in person.

Economic development boss Tom Cunningham said: "Our annual Braintree Christmas lights switch-on is a well-loved event which attracts thousands of visitors each year, and we know it forms part of a very special tradition for many residents and businesses.

"We’re still finalising plans for this year, but it won’t come as a surprise to people that an outdoor event wouldn’t be achievable considering the size and scale of the event and being able to maintain social distancing for everyone’s safety.

"We are looking at hosting something virtually instead to include the community, market traders and local businesses and will share more in due course.

"We still have every intention of having Christmas lights up around the town centre for people to enjoy throughout the festive season."

Culture and tourism boss Frankie Ricci added: "We, like thousands of people always look forward to our Braintree Christmas light switch on event, but this year, owing to obvious circumstances, we have no alternative but to look at different ways to mark the occasion, in the interest of public safety."

Braintree Council says it is also in contact with town councils in Witham and Halstead about their respective Christmas events.