Coronavirus: Big family reunions at Christmas may be banned, minister warns

·3-min read

Big family reunions may be banned at Christmas in England as the coronavirus second wave could last until March, a senior minister has warned.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said people should prepare now for the "realistic" prospect that high numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths continue, so a normal festive period "won't be achievable".

His comments come as more areas prepare to go into Tier 3 - the highest band of restrictions in England - and follow another 24,701 infections and 310 fatalities across the UK.

Mr Buckland appeared to lay the ground for what rules will be in place over Christmas, explaining "all of us have a growing realisation that this is with us throughout the winter season".

The second coronavirus spike "will last for a considerable period of time... right through to when the clocks go forward again at the end of March", he told ITV's Peston show.

He continued: "I think we've all got to be realistic that if we are seeing these trends continue right through December, then Christmas in its perhaps fullest sense won't be achievable for any of us this year.

"And perhaps coming to terms with that now is probably the right approach that we need to take.

"It doesn't mean we can't have Christmas.

"But perhaps those extended gatherings which draw people from different parts of the country - I've got family in Wales, for example - that may well not be possible, given the information that is emerging."

In Wales, the devolved government's health minister made a similar prediction on Sky News earlier this week.

Vaughan Gething said there needed to be a "national conversation about the rules we're all going to need to follow" to make sure everyone can have "some company" over the festive period.

He admitted it would be "dislocating" for some.

And Scotland's national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch said people should brace for a "digital Christmas".

Labour and the government's scientific advisers known as SAGE pushed for a short lockdown to try and push the number of cases and deaths back down.

A Sky News poll conducted by YouGov on 15 and 16 October found 67% of people favoured the idea, compared to 26% who did not and 8% who didn't know.

Professor Andrew Hayward, from UCL's institute of epidemiology and a SAGE member, told Sky News on Wednesday: "It's more effective to act earlier, you save more lives the earlier you act - I think this needs to be way before Christmas and quite soon."

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been resisting such a move, saying local measures are more effective and fairer on those regions where the virus' prevalence is lower.

"We see this as a national crisis that we are going to turn around," he said at Prime Minister's Questions earlier this month.

"I rule out nothing, of course, in combating the virus.

"But we are going to do it with the local and regional approach that can drive down and will drive down the virus."

In Wales, residents are currently in the middle of a 17-day "fire break" lockdown in a bid to get the virus back under control.