Christmas rules not changing despite soaring COVID rates in parts of UK, government insists

Matilda Long
·4-min read
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth, Northumberland. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson visits the National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth, Northumberland, last week. (Getty Images)

The easing of COVID-19 restrictions over Christmas will go ahead despite spiking infections in parts of the UK, Downing Street has said.

The prime minister’s official spokesperson said there were no plans to shorten the period in which families can meet up in their Christmas bubbles.

The spokesperson said: “We’ve set out the details of the Christmas guidelines.

“There are no plans to review the Christmas guidance. What we’ve said alongside that is that the public should continue to be cautious.

“I think the prime minister said it’s the season to be jolly careful and we would emphasise that we should continue to do that.

Watch: London mayor Sadiq Khan calls for schools to close early

“We’ve been clear that it’s a limited easement to allow families to bubble over the Christmas period after what has been a very difficult year for many people.

“But it remains important for the public to follow the guidance.”

Families are allowed to form a limited Christmas bubble from 23-27 December to celebrate Christmas, made up of people from no more than three households.

Read more: Parents ‘should remove children from secondary schools before term ends’

Travel between coronavirus tiers and to other UK nations is permitted during this time period.

It comes as London stood poised to enter Tier 3 COVID restrictions amid spiralling infections.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan called the infection rates “deeply concerning” as he called on the government to take action.

He urged the prime minister to provide additional support to businesses and those who cannot work from home.

The National Gallery overlooks a near-deserted Trafalgar Square in London, England, on March 26, 2020. According to the latest daily figures a total of 578 people have so far died across the UK after testing positive for the covid-19 coronavirus. Hospitals in London, where around a third of cases have been diagnosed, are under particular strain. One senior hospital figure, Chris Hopson of the group NHS Providers, warned today of a 'tsunami' of cases to hit hospitals in the capital over the coming weeks. (Photo by David Cliff/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
It looks increasingly likely that London will be moved up into Tier 3 following a surge in infections. (PA)

Although restrictions will still be eased despite soaring infection figures, NHS bosses have warned to think "really carefully" about the risk of more social contact over Christmas.

NHS Providers head Chris Hopson said the health service is worried about the knock-on effect it will have in January.

“There seems to be a sense at the moment that, 'Hey, because the government's put these rules down, there's no risk to people having more social contact over Christmas'," he told BBC Breakfast.

Read more: Decision over moving London into Tier 3 could be made today, Sadiq Khan says

"Of course, part of it is about sticking to the rules but any kind of extra social contact over Christmas – particularly with those who are vulnerable to the virus – actually is very risky."

“I don't want to be the Grinch who stole Christmas, I really don't, but I think everybody needs to think really, really carefully what are they going to do over Christmas.”

Christmas shoppers walk past a Coronavirus Tier 3 Very High Alert sign in Leeds, Yorkshire.
Christmas shoppers walk past a Tier 3 'Very High Alert' sign in Leeds, Yorkshire. (Getty)
Shoppers on the streets of Birmingham ahead of Christmas. The city is still in Tier 3 restrictions.
Shoppers on the streets of Birmingham, which is also in Tier 3 restrictions. Experts have warned people to think 'really carefully' about social contact at Christmas. (Getty)

Hopson pointed out that the US saw a record rise in cases and deaths after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, also voiced concerns about people travelling from areas with high infections to parts of the country with lower prevalence of the virus.

“From a public-health perspective, I have to be perfectly honest, I think this is a mistake,” she said.

Read more: Sadiq Khan begs Londoners not to 'go backwards' over Christmas amid Tier 3 fears

She said that although she understands that behaviourally people are “fed up”, the easing of the rules will “have consequences”.

Her comments followed those of Stephen Reicher, a professor of psychology at the University of St Andrews and member of the Independent Sage group, who warned: “We are heading towards disaster.”

He said: “Given high levels of infection across the country and the increasing levels in some areas, such as London, it is inevitable that if we all do choose to meet up over Christmas then we will pay the price in the new year.”

People in Scotland were told to “cut down” the number of contacts in the week before Christmas if they plan to meet up with relatives..

Matt Hancock is due to make a statement in the House of Commons at 3.30pm, amid speculation the government is about to tighten the rules in areas where cases are on the up.

London is expected to move into Tier 3 following a spike in infections, as well as other parts of the South East.

Rules for areas in the highest of England’s three regional lockdown tiers would see pubs, restaurants, bars and cafes forced to close except for takeaways, marking a major blow in the crucial festive trading period.

On Sunday, 18,447 coronavirus cases and 144 related deaths were reported in the UK.

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