Government could prevent large family gatherings at Christmas, warns minister

By Laura Parnaby, PA
·2-min read

The Government is prepared to prevent large families meeting at Christmas if coronavirus restrictions are still in place, a Cabinet minister has said.

Environment Secretary George Eustice also suggested that families living in areas under different tier restrictions may not be allowed to meet even in groups of fewer than six.

The minister said it is “too early to say” how lockdowns could affect festivities, but told LBC: “Obviously if we do need to have restrictions in place, and prevent families from coming together in large gatherings, if that’s necessary to control the virus that’s what we’ll have to do.”

Asked on Times Radio if families from different tiers would be able to spend Christmas together, he added this is “not provided for currently”.

Coronavirus – Tue Jul 21, 2020
Environment Secretary George Eustice (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Mr Eustice rejected demands from the Liberal Democrats to plan coronavirus restrictions for the festive period now.

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has called for four-nation Covid planning in relation to Christmas, warning that people face confusion and complexity over potential restrictions.

Mr Eustice told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is a rapidly developing situation and we are making judgments all the time about what restrictions might be needed and what’s appropriate to have as restrictions in a particular area.

“We should set our guidelines, not as the Lib Dems say, based on Christmas is coming, we should set our guidelines based on the epidemiology of this virus and follow the science and respond to emerging situations in a proportionate way.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Government’s failure to introduce a circuit-break lockdown over the school half-term has “put Christmas at risk” and urged ministers to “do something quickly to save Christmas”.

Coronavirus – Sun May 10, 2020
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Speaking on Times Radio, he said Government sources are planning for a Tier 3 lockdown in most areas of the country “at some point in November”, which he expects will continue through the festive period.

Asked if he thought families would be able to meet in groups of more than six, the Labour MP said: “That’s in the hands of all of us, and in the hands of the decisions it (the Government) makes in the next week or so about what they’re going to do to get on top of this virus.

“I think because they’ve missed this window of opportunity over the half-term, I’m worried now that what we’ll see is deeper, more drastic lockdown action over November and December, which sadly probably does put Christmas at risk.

“The Government have got to do something quickly to save Christmas for everybody, because we want people to have a family Christmas, and I think it would be awful if people didn’t have that.”