New documents show Sage members’ concern that relaxation of COVID rules over festive period could prompt future rule breaking for other special occasions such as birthdays
Scientists raised issue 19 days before government announced temporary easing of restrictions covering 23 to 27 December
The government’s top coronavirus advisers are worried this year’s “Christmas bubbles” could prompt rule breaking for other special occasions such as people’s birthdays, new documents show.
Minutes for a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting on 5 November – which were made public on Friday – show the scientists raised concerns about the relaxation of COVID rules during the winter festive season.
Of key concern, the minutes show, was that “increased transmission is likely to result from more social mixing during celebrations”.
However, the scientists also expressed concern that people may take it upon themselves to ignore the rules in future for other special occasions.
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“Amnesties for celebrations and observances also risk discrediting previous guidance and any future guidance,” the minutes read.
“If guidelines are relaxed for some festivals, some may reason that this can be applied to other celebrations such as birthdays and anniversaries, using the same logic that was applied to the amnesty when associating same level of importance and values on other celebrations.”
The meeting happened 19 days before the four UK governments confirmed they had agreed a coronavirus strategy that will allow families to reunite between 23 and 27 December.
Under this temporary relaxation of household mixing rules, three households will be able to join in a bubble from 23 to 27 December.
Earlier this week, health secretary Matt Hancock was also asked whether the focus on Christmas could be perceived as “unfair” towards people wanting to focus on other festivities such as Diwali.
He said: “I’m very sensitive to this point, and we did think about it and we engaged and we have discussed it.
“The conclusion that we’ve come to, which I agree with very strongly, is that Christmas as a national holiday is the biggest national holiday that we have.
“Of course it has particular importance for Christians, but it is an important national holiday for everybody in this country.
“So while of course we considered the impact on those of other faiths, Christmas is a special time for everyone in this country.”
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