MP questions safety of Christmas bubbles as coronavirus cases rise
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An MP has questioned whether Christmas bubbles are safe or sensible as coronavirus deaths and infection rates continue to rise in our region.
Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South, said there would be deaths as a result of the relaxation of restrictions.
However, others - including experts and other MPs - have cited the mental health benefits of the break, and emphasised people's personal responsibility in combating the spread of the virus.
Politicians and medical experts have urged caution ahead of the festive period, when people will be permitted to mix indoors with a wider circle of family and friends for five days.
But the government has confirmed the easing of measures from December 23 to 27 will take place as planned, with foreign secretary Dominic Raab arguing that people need the five-day window "at a mental health and emotional level".
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Infection rates have continued to rise steadily across Norfolk and Suffolk in recent days, likely dashing hopes of the counties being moved from Tier 2 into Tier 1.
And Mr Lewis believes temporarily increasing the public's freedom could have a negative effect.
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“The reality is, there will be some people alive now who will be dead after Christmas because of this,” he said. “That is a cold, statistical fact.
“When you look at it like that, the bubbles come at a price.
“I want to see as many people as possible and it is really hard, but at the same time we know people are going to die. You look at Germany – they are going into a full lockdown over Christmas.
“London looks like it’s going up into Tier 3. If the trajectory is going up, then relaxing for five days and getting together is only going to see the rate going up even further."
Over the weekend, health bosses sent a letter to Boris Johnson asking for problem areas to be moved into Tier 3 "without delay".
The letter from NHS Providers did not recommend a review of Christmas bubbles, but said the prime minister should ensure there is a "better public debate" surrounding the risks of mixing with others.
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.
"It does carry with it a risk but looking at the other side of things, January is generally a very bad month for people's mental health," he said.
"If being able to meet up in as safe a way as possible with your loved ones over Christmas gives you that extra strength to carry on until we're able to get a lot more relaxed over spring, then I think that is a tolerable risk that I think we could accept."
Prof Hunter added that the seasonal closure of shops and schools, as well as a reduction in people travelling to work, would all contribute to driving down the R value.
Meanwhile, Jerome Mayhew, MP for Broadland, believes the government is right to allow a five-day relaxation, but highlighted the importance of making sensible decisions.
Mr Mayhew said he had changed his own Christmas plans in order to protect loved ones.
He added: "People have gone through so much this year, and we have got to have a sense of reality that they are going to want to see a few extra people over Christmas.
"That being said, this allows us to make our own decisions and take responsibility for our actions. Just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean you should.
"I had invited my mum, but we decided last week it was not sensible. She is 82 and in good health, but why put her at risk when you don't need to?"
Norfolk's infection rate for the week up to December 7 was 106.2 cases per 100,000 people, up from 90.4 a week prior.
There were 964 new positive coronavirus cases during the same period.
While the rate remains below the 160.9 average figure for England, it rose in all but one of Norfolk and Waveney's districts.
For the seven days up to December 8, the percentage of beds occupied by Covid patients rose at all three of Norfolk's hospitals at an average of 9pc.
The first review of England's Tier allocation is due take place on Wednesday (December 16).