Published: Sat, November 21, 2020
Medical | By

Families set for week of freedom in Christmas easing of Covid restrictions

Families set for week of freedom in Christmas easing of Covid restrictions

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Government's scientific committee Sage, said that allowing family gatherings would create a "substantial risk" of new infections.

He appealed to people to "keep up the pressure on this virus and push down on it as much as we can right to the end of the period (of lockdown)".

"We want to have a set of rules, if at all possible, that is UK-wide, not least because so many people travel between different parts of the United Kingdom".

"I've got no doubt that people will continue to respect social distancing throughout, because we know that that is so important for full control of the virus".

But he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that while 2020 has been "such a hard year", there are signs the current lockdown in England is working.

Hancock told Sky News that while the encroaching December holidays will not be typical, the current lockdown measure could be released.

Asked about his own Christmas plans, Hancock said that he was now planning a small Christmas within the existing rules, but he said he hoped there would be some relaxation, even if some restrictions had to remain.

But on Friday night Professor Jonathan Van Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, said the health service meant to "move with as much pace as we can possibly muster" with only a matter of weeks difference between priority groups. Another minister added that restrictions will be in place "for quite a while" and that this will be easier following a "decent" Christmas.

Speaking to LBC on Friday, she pointed out that officers had "no powers of entry" into Britons' homes if there are suspected breaches of coronavirus laws, continuing: "I have no intention anyway of encouraging my people to be barging through people's doors or knocking on people's doors, unless you've got, as we sometimes do, a huge party going on which is clearly very, very unsafe and causing lots of concern - for them, we might be knocking on doors, saying you need to stop this".

Respect the fact that we mustn’t spread the virus further’ Health secretary Matt Hancock
Respect the fact that we mustn’t spread the virus further’ Health secretary Matt Hancock

Mr Hancock said "it's still too early to tell" what will happen after December 2 when England's lockdown is due to end.

The UK government had been re-opening the country from the initial lockdown in March.

However, he stressed "some parts of the country really are in a very hard situation at the moment and their cases are still rising". The Office for National Statistics said incidence had levelled off in recent weeks, with daily infections increasing by 38,900 in England in the latest week, down from around 50,000 previously.

The ONS said infection rates have continued to increase in London, the East of England and the South East, but appear to be decreasing in the North West and the East Midlands.

Public Health England said coronavirus case rates in England have fallen for most adult age groups, but are continuing to rise among people over 70. Scientists have suggested that every day of relaxed measures over Christmas would require five days of tougher measures to compensate for the risk of a coronavirus spike.

Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, has also warned restrictions may need to remain in large parts of England after December 2 to stop infection levels rebounding immediately.

He added: "A halving of infection prevalence over the four weeks would be a positive result".

With the number of new cases now remaining high, contingencies are being considered, including a drop to Level 4.

He told Today: "We've changed the law to change the number of clinically qualified people who can vaccinate because this is going to be one of the biggest civilian projects in history".

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