No change over coronavirus Christmas bubbles, but PM advises 'extreme caution'

Boris Johnson. Picture: PA Images

Prime minister Boris Johnson. - Credit: PA WIRE

Families and friends will be allowed to mix when coronavirus restrictions are relaxed over Christmas, but there will be stronger warnings about the risks of spreading coronavirus.

Talks between the UK government and leaders of the devolved administration have backed the planned relaxation of restrictions, despite warnings from medical experts about the dangers.

A source close to the talks told the PA news agency that no changes have been made to the planned relaxations over the festive period.

But prime minister Boris Johnson, in the Commons, urged people to "exercise extreme caution" while celebrating Christmas.

Senior cabinet minister Michael Gove and leaders from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had continued talks this morning to agree the approach.

At prime minister's questions, Mr Johnson said it was right to "stress the importance of people taking care this Christmas", particularly due to the risk of asymptomatic transmission of coronavirus.

He told MPs: "We should exercise extreme caution in the way we celebrate Christmas.

"We can celebrate it sensibly but we have to be extremely cautious in the way we behave."

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Mr Johnson told MPs there was "unanimous agreement" across the four nations "that we should proceed in principle with the existing regulations", although Wales has switched from three to two households.

Mr Johnson said: "We don't want to criminalise people's long-made plans.

"But we do think it's absolutely vital that people should - at this very, very tricky time - exercise a high degree of personal responsibility, especially when they come into contact with elderly people, and avoid contact with elderly people wherever possible."

The discussions came after communities secretary Robert Jenrick said that it would be up to people to make a "personal judgment" whether they wanted to meet up with vulnerable family members over the holiday period.

He suggested some people may decide to "keep it small" and put off larger gatherings until the spring, saying: "Easter can be the new Christmas."

Under the relaxed restrictions, up to three households will be able to mix between December 23 and 27.

The British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal had published a rare joint editorial calling for the "rash" decision to relax social distancing measures over the festive period to be scrapped.

They said the government "is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives".

While admitting gatherings could present problems, Professor Paul Hunter, a specialist in medical microbiology at the UEA, called them a "tolerable risk" when balanced with mental health concerns.

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