Covid: Relaxation of UK Christmas rules ‘unlikely to change’
Sterner warnings about the dangers of mixing over Christmas are to be issued by the four UK nations – but sources say the rules allowing three households to mix are “unlikely to change”.
The plans for 23-27 December will be discussed by officials later.
Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick urged the public to “use their own judgement” on who to see over the five days.
It comes as London, much of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire
moved into tier three restrictions overnight.
Around 61% of England’s population is now living under the toughest rules.
What are the Christmas rules?
- Between 23 and 27 December, you can form a “Christmas bubble” comprised of people from three households
- You can travel between tiers and between UK nations to meet your bubble
- You can only meet in homes, places of worship or public outdoor spaces – not pubs or restaurants
- You can meet people outside your bubble according to your local rules
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove will resume talks with leaders of the devolved administrations on Wednesday morning amid warnings hospitals could become overwhelmed if the easing of Covid regulations across the UK continue as planned.
The rules will allow up to three households to form a bubble and stay overnight at each other’s homes over a five-day period.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Mr Jenrick said the government “can’t legislate for every eventuality” so people must “exercise good judgement, think about the particular vulnerabilities of your own family and friends who might be coming together”.
He added that people can “choose to do less” than the eased restrictions will allow.
Labour has called for the measures over Christmas to be reviewed.
Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed told BBC Breakfast that the four UK nations should reconsider whether the proposed easing of restrictions was safe, “given what we now know about the failure of [England’s] tiered system to control the rate of infection”.
It comes after two leading journals said the “rash” decision to ease restrictions would “cost many lives”.
In a joint editorial, the British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal stressed that demand on the NHS was increasing, adding that a new strain of coronavirus – identified in both England and Wales – “has introduced further potential jeopardy”.
Graham Medley, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the “major driver” for how much the disease spreads over the five-day Christmas period was the infection prevalence – and that the current prevalence had started to rise “really quite rapidly in some places”.
“When the rules were made about Christmas, we didn’t know what that prevalence was going to be,” Prof Medley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
As for the risk of the NHS becoming overwhelmed, he said: “We don’t have much headroom.”
But instead of a change to the rules, advice around celebrating Christmas safely across the UK is expected to be significantly strengthened.
People will be urged to stay local where possible and to think carefully about who they bubble with, such as avoiding the elderly or at-risk relatives.
An information campaign is expected to be launched in the days running up to Christmas.
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After the first round of talks on Tuesday, a UK government source said they were “keen to maintain a UK-wide approach”.
Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, had earlier told the Scottish Parliament there was a “case” for tightening the planned freedoms to combat a rise in infections.
In Wales, First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said “the choice is a grim one”, but the current plans were a “hard-won agreement” he would not put aside “lightly”.
A spokeswoman for Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said they would be holding discussions with their medical and scientific advisers.
Sir Graham Brady, the head of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, opposes any change to the Christmas rules and told BBC Newsnight that issuing new guidance was a “good thing”.
“Give people the information, give them what they need to make sensible decisions for themselves and their loved ones, and then trust people,” he said.
Despite the significant pressure for a rethink, leaders from the UK are likely to stick to the deal they agreed last month.
There are no plans for a change of regulations in England – and it’s unlikely Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland will make changes either.
But there are real concerns among decision makers about the impact the relaxations could have – in particular the number of people who will be travelling across the UK.
So you can expect to hear much stronger advice that just because you can mix, that doesn’t mean you should.
Ministers are preparing to warn people they should limit their interactions before forming a Christmas bubble, that they should think carefully before mixing with elderly or at-risk relatives, and that where possible people should stay local and avoid travel.
Leaders are still trying to strike a balance between allowing people to visit relatives who they may not have seen for months, without allowing the virus to run rampant.
But many still believe that relaxing rules just as many areas are seeing a significant increase in cases is too risky, and will lead to a considerably more difficult period at the start of next year.
The resumption of talks comes as nearly 10.8 million people joined tier three restrictions at 00:01 GMT.
It means some 34 million people in England are now living under the toughest rules.
Under tier three – very high alert – rules, pubs and restaurants must close, except for takeaway and delivery, and indoor entertainment venues such as theatres, bowling alleys and cinemas must remain shut.
Ministers are also due to review other English tiers today – with an announcement due on Thursday.
On Tuesday, the Scottish government announced that three council areas – Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and East Lothian – are to have tougher restrictions imposed from Friday in a bid to reverse rising numbers of cases.
It was also announced that a further 506 people in the UK had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bringing the total to 64,908. Another 18,450 infections were confirmed.
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Published at Wed, 16 Dec 2020 08:15:32 +0000