The Prime Minister will set out plans for the festive period as well as new post-lockdown rules next week. It also emerged yesterday more than 40 mass vaccination centres will be set up across England to give out jabs.
Downing Street sources said the PM is fighting for “everyone to have as normal a Christmas as possible” while also working to defeat the virus. The best way everyone can help is by following the rules,” they added. Coronavirus case numbers have plunged by a third in a week, fuelling hopes the second lockdown is dramatically curbing the spread of the disease.
Government figures showed there were 22,915 lab-confirmed cases in the UK yesterday, compared to 33,470 the previous Thursday.
Hopes were also raised that the UK could produce a successful coronavirus vaccine after data from the University of Oxford showed its jab provokes a strong immune response in older people.
But some experts are resisting proposals allowing families to gather together at Christmas, even for a short period.
Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group For Emergencies that advises the Government, said mixing at Christmas posed “substantial risks”.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London warned the festive period could risk the progress the country has made.
He said: “Mixing at Christmas does pose substantial risks, particularly in terms of bringing together generations with high incidence of infection with the older generations who currently have much lower levels of infection and are at most risk of dying if they catch Covid.
“My personal view is we’re putting far too much emphasis on having a near-normal Christmas.
“We know respiratory infections peak in January so throwing fuel on the fire over Christmas can only contribute to this.
“We’re on the cusp of being able to protect those elderly people who we love through vaccination and it would be tragic to throw that opportunity away and waste the gains we’ve made during lockdown by trying to return to normality over the holidays.”
Professor Gabriel Scally, a public health expert at Bristol University, is one of a group of scientists that has been critical of the Government’s handling of the crisis.
He has now given a dire warning about the impact of easing restrictions.
He said: “There is no point having a very merry Christmas and then burying friends and relations in January and February.” Scientists have suggested that every day of relaxed measures over Christmas would require five days of tougher measures to compensate for the risk of a coronavirus spike.
But the Sage assessment only considers the preliminary findings from unpublished modelling.
The lockdown will legally end on December 2 and Mr Johnson will set out plans next week on what system should replace it. The PM wants to reintroduce regional restrictions but it is not yet clear if the previous system will be reintroduced or if measures will be beefed up.
Scientists have said the lowest level, tier one, had little impact on the spread of the virus.
Mr Johnson is also expected to produce a UK-wide plan for Christmas after talks on what approach to take.
As well as how many people can gather and for how long, the new rules will have a significant impact on many other forms of Christmas celebrations.
Officials were unable to say if carol singing will be banned this year. Singing has been identified as a possible way of spreading the disease.
But sales of mistletoe will not be banned, Downing Street insisted.
A No 10 spokesman pointed out Mr Johnson believes that “while Christmas will be a little bit different from normal this year, we continue to hope to ensure that families can spend Christmas together”.
He added: “We obviously keep the case numbers under review and we will continue to do so going into next week when we will set out more details of the next phase, post-December 2.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the Government wanted to see the impact of lockdown on the spread of the disease before finalising the plans.
He said: “Come December 2, the decisions will be made. We will try and get that balance right, but ultimately we will try to make sure we protect our NHS and safeguard lives.
“I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas. I’m not campaigning for that. I would love all of us to be able to have a Christmas, but more than anything I want us to get through this and try and get this country back to normal. I want to protect lives.
“The best time for the Government to make that decision is as close to December 2 as possible.
“I know some would wish to know earlier, but if we were to do it now, and the facts were changing on the ground, we’ll end up having to change it again.”
Public Health England said coronavirus case rates in England have fallen for most adult age groups, but are continuing to rise among people over 70.