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A family Christmas? Festive COVID rules to be made public ‘next week’

Written by on 19 November 2020

Rules on whether coronavirus restrictions will be eased so families can meet at Christmas will be revealed next week, Downing Street has said.

England’s second national lockdown is due to end on 2 December, with the government having promised another tiered system of rules – depending on local infection rates – to replace it.

The UK government and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also in talks over what COVID-19 measures should be in place over Christmas.

Recent reports have suggested there could be a special easing of restrictions over the festive period in order to allow families to get together.

A Number 10 spokesman said on Thursday: “We obviously keep the case numbers under review and we will continue to do so going into next week when we will set out more details of the next phase, post-December 2.”

The spokesman also pointed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s view that “whilst Christmas will be a little bit different from normal this year, we continue to hope to ensure that families can spend Christmas together”.

“We will set out our plans next week,” the spokesman added.

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COVID-19: Xmas plans to be announced in days

Meanwhile, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Thursday the chief medical officers of all four UK nations have been asked to make plans for how the easing of some restrictions would work “in a way that does not lead to increased loss of life and increased harm to health over the January period”.

She said a “concrete” proposal for gatherings to take place at Christmas could be revealed “in the coming days”.

“I would hope… we could share that with the public over the course of next week,” Ms Sturgeon added.

Earlier, one cabinet minister told Sky News the plan for Christmas would be made public in “the next few days”.

Asked by Sky News’ Kay Burley how many family members would be allowed to gather around a Christmas dinner table, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “I have a family, I would like to know that, and I think that’s why over the next few days the government will set out those details.”

However, the minister also suggested Britons may have to wait until the end of the current lockdown to find out more details about Christmas.

Mr Wallace said that – due to the lag time between lockdown measures being introduced and a slowing of COVID-19 infections – ministers would know more about the impact of England’s new shutdown “as we get closer towards 2 December”.

“As we get towards 2 December, the government will therefore set out all those different issues,” he added.

“We will go into a tiering system.

“I think our aims are all the same, we would like to see our families at Christmas, we would like to mix with each other as much as possible.

“But also we have to remember this an incredibly infectious and nasty disease and there are lots of people, I’m afraid, still dying of COVID.”

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Pressed again on what rules on different households mixing might be in place for Christmas, Mr Wallace said: “We will be able to tell you that when we get towards 2 December.

“When we know at that stage how many people in the country are affected, what the space is in our hospitals, how the rollout of vaccines is going to develop.

“We will know that with much more certainty around 2 December than if you ask me today in the middle of November.

“I can’t give you lots of those answers, there’s lots of speculation.”

Scientists have suggested that each day’s easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas might require five days of tougher measures to make up for it.

And speaking to Sky News’ Kay Burley, former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown said: “I found being prime minister, you have to be two steps ahead of events.

“What he’s got to do, Boris Johnson, is say ‘Look, if there’s any doubt about whether we can let people mix at Christmas, we have to act now.

“We have to act with tough measures now. You have to be two steps ahead as PM, you can’t be behind the curve.

“And we tend to do things at the last minute when we should have acted sooner.”

Dr Hans Kluge, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) regional director for Europe, said this year’s festive season will be “a different Christmas but that does not mean it cannot be a merry one”.

He said that during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, community-based groups formed safe solutions for breaking their fast, which involved celebrating virtually or delivering meals to homes for “distance celebrations”, while a “virtual Diwali” – the Hindu festival of light – involved free online events across Europe for “short, safe revelries”.

Speaking at a news briefing on Thursday, Dr Kluge said: “Cherish the festive season with those close to you.

“If it’s a large gathering of vulnerable people, you may postpone that gathering until you can safely gather.

“Despite the cold, if local restrictions permit, gather outside with loved ones for picnics in the park.”