Government 'considering relaxing COVID rules for Christmas' so families can celebrate together

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taking a selfie at home for christmas during the covid
Families may be able to spend Christmas together under government plans. (Getty/posed by models)

Families may be able to spend Christmas together, under government plans to temporarily relax the COVID restrictions.

According to The Times, ministers are mulling over proposals to extend family support bubbles to two or three households for a few days over the festive period.

However, business secretary Alok Sharma said is too early to say whether families will be allowed to gather over Christmas.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I want to have my mum and dad around, I want to have members of my family around that Christmas table,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“I just think it’s too early to be reaching any conclusions on that. What none of us knows right now is what the infection rate is going to be in different parts of the country.”

Watch: Minister says it is 'too early' to make Xmas decision

Current national lockdown regulations in England end on 2 December, but health secretary Matt Hancock hinted this week they could continue if coronavirus cases remain high.

But Downing Street said on Tuesday that Boris Johnson wanted to “ensure that people can spend time with close family over Christmas at the end of what has been an incredibly difficult year”.

The temporary measures would only be in place for a period of two or three days, with UK scientific advisers telling the government a longer relaxation period could see COVID cases double or quadruple, the newspaper said.

However, the advisers added that “greater mixing would be possible [at Christmas] if prevalence is low in mid-December”.

Dr Susan Hopkins, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said this morning that a family Christmas is possible if people are “careful” in the next few weeks.

Asked if “some sort of Christmas is possible”, she responded: "I think it is. Some of the Sage advice previously said that for every day we release, we will need two days of tighter restrictions.

“Coming into Christmas, we will need to be careful about the number of contacts we have and to reduce transmission before Christmas and get cases as low as possible.

“Hopefully the government will make the decision to allow us to have some mixing but we will wait and see what that is."

The UK government is now said to be in talks with the devolved administrations to come to a consistent policy across all four nations so there is no resentment that other parts of the country are able to mix households.

It comes as Scotland’s toughest coronavirus restrictions are set to be imposed on 11 council areas, with Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon saying the move to Level 4 will help protect the NHS and could give people the chance of some respite at Christmas.

Sturgeon is believed to be concerned that a softening of the rules could see a spike in deaths in January.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 11: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Prime Minister Boris Johnson (seen wearing a face mask with a number 10 embroidered into it) attends a service to mark the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey on November 11, 2020 in London, England. The service is to commemorate the funeral of an unknown British serviceman, the Unknown Warrior, whose body was brought from Northern France and buried at the west end of the nave in Westminster Abbey on 11th November 1920 to represent all those who lost their lives in the First World War but whose place of death was not known, or whose bodies remained unidentified. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images/Pool)
Boris Johnson wants to 'ensure' families can see each other over Christmas. (Getty)

The idea of extended support bubbles of up to four households could enable families and friends to gather safely at Christmas, according to epidemiologist Neil Ferguson.

Ferguson, whose modelling led to the original lockdown in March, said the proposal would increase the risk of coronavirus transmission but in a “controllable way”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that completely relaxing restrictions for a few days could “readily double infection prevalence” in the country.

But he said: “There are ways of going part-way which still reduce the risk – basically extending what are called bubbles – social bubbles, support bubbles…

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 16: Health Secretary Matt Hancock holds a virtual press conference on the latest coronavirus (COVID-19) developments at Downing Street on November 16, 2020 in London, England. UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock hosts today's virtual press conference on Coronavirus as the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and five other MPs are self-isolating.  The five MPs and two aides met with MP Lee Anderson who has subsequently tested positive for Covid-19.  (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Health secretary Matt Hancock suggested this week that the lockdown in England could be extended. (Getty)

“You could think of allowing three or four households to bubble together for a week but not contact anybody else, which would give more opportunity to see loved ones but not a free-for-all.

“And that, modelling would suggest, increases risk somewhat but in a controllable way.”

The government will decide next week how to end England’s second national lockdown and outline any restrictions that could be in place over the Christmas period.

Pedestrians pass a COVID-19 sign reading "Stop the spread" as they walk past a Christmas tree in Covent Garden in central London on November 17, 2020. - Britain has been the worst-hit nation in Europe recording more than 50,000 coronavirus deaths from some 1.2 million positive cases. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Pedestrians pass a COVID-19 sign as they walk past a Christmas tree in Covent Garden in central London. (Getty)

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick said on Tuesday that ministers want to see a “significant easing” of coronavirus controls when the lockdown in England is lifted, but suggested tighter controls may be needed in the top Tier 3.

It comes after Susan Hopkins, medical director of Public Health England and chief medical adviser to NHS Test and Trace, said ministers would have to look at “strengthening” the tier system.

The government announced a further 598 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday, bringing the UK total to 52,745.

Watch: COVID vaccine could be distributed ‘perhaps before Christmas’

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