‘Keen that we have a Christmas as close to normal as possible’ - government scientists raise festive hopes

Dr Susan Hopkins. Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Dr Susan Hopkins. Pic: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Government scientific advisors have said they are keen that the nation has as normal as Christmas as possible and that there could be relaxation of restrictions for at least part of the festive period.

Ministers are under pressure to reveal how Covid-19 restrictions will be eased for Christmas. Pictur

Ministers are under pressure to reveal how Covid-19 restrictions will be eased for Christmas. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

But Public Health England’s Dr Susan Hopkins, medical advisor to the government’s Covid-19 response, said tougher restrictions could be needed either side of Christmas if curbs were to be eased.

She told a Downing Street briefing: “We are very keen that we have a Christmas as close to normal as possible.

“That requires all of us to make every effort over this national restriction period and even in early December to get the cases as low as possible and to reduce the risk of transmission within households and between families.

“A final decision will rest with the government and we look forward to hearing what those plans are.

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“This is a decision that will be made by government and I know that they’re working hard to develop an outline of what that will look like and what the new tiers will look like post-December 2 and what Christmas will look like.”

There are suggestions that support bubbles could be extended to help allow families to meet, with a five-day temporary relaxation of restrictions was among the options being considered by health bosses.

Ministers have insisted it is too early to tell whether the lockdown has succeeded and virus infection levels will be low enough to allow festivities to go ahead but housing secretary Robert Jenrick said it was his “very firm expectation” that measures will be eased significantly in December.

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Deputy chief scientific adviser Professor Dame Angela McLean indicated the Sage advisory panel had been examining potential relaxation of measures over Christmas.

She said: “We did send some advice in over the weekend. But we genuinely don’t know what decisions have been made.”

Asked whether households mixing could be allowed if there were other trade-offs, Dame Angela said: “What’s really important is we go into a festive week when we want to mix with our friends and our family with the number of infections in the community as low as possible.”

She said the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in the community had risen steeply in September and October but had slowed down.

MORE: Coronavirus in Norfolk - what restrictions will there be when lockdown ends?

She said, while it had not flattened out yet, the data was from before the second national lockdown began in England and areas with high levels of infection had already started to see a drop.

Dame Angela added: “What you see is even before national restrictions were brought in, in the parts of the country where the amount of infections was already very high the progress of the epidemic had already flattened off, that’s the north west and Yorkshire and Humber.

“Those also happen to include the parts of the country that were under tier 3 restrictions so that’s good news that some parts of the country have already flattened off.”

And she said it would not be a problem for easing England’s lockdown if the R rate remained above one next week, due to the lag in calculating the value.

She said: “The way we estimate R is very dominated by lagging indicators - people who are in hospital or people who have died.

“People who are going in to hospital now are people who got infected weeks ago.”

She said an increase in people’s activity on the day before England’s lockdown came into effect was a “worry to us”.

“You can imagine why people would want to get some shopping in before the shops were all shut,” she said.

Asked whether that was a concern when considering measures ahead of Christmas, she said: “We are concerned about how can we have a safe run-up to Christmas so that we can some kind of a good family Christmas.”

The briefing also heard about the results of a survey, carried out between November 5 and 8, into whether people are following the guidelines.

That survey, by the Office for National Statistics, showed 98pc of people are wearing face coverings outside of their homes, 81pc are avoiding contact with other adults and vulnerable people and 38pc are working from home because of the pandemic.

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