Mr Hancock said he wanted there to be “joy” over the festive period but warned it was also vital to keep people safe. He insisted it would be a big boost to the UK if all four of its nations could reach an agreement on allowing families to meet at Christmas. He said: “We do hope over Christmas to agree a set of rules across the UK, because so many people travel around the UK, and that work is ongoing.
“But there will have to be rules in place. We just hope to have some of that joy that Christmas brings. But it has to be careful.
“Christmas is a special time of year and we’ve had such a difficult year in 2020.
“It has been such a terrible year and having some hope, some joy at Christmas, I know that would be welcomed by so many people.
“So we are trying to agree across the UK a set of rules that allows for that joy but keeps people safe.”
Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, the UK’s deputy chief medical officer, said the Government “clearly wants to give us a break” over Christmas.
He warned infection rates will pick up again if the public ignore any guidelines put in place around the festive period.
But he dismissed previous claims by experts that one day of Christmas fun would lead to up to five days of lockdown.
He said: “There is dual responsibility here. There is no magic number about how many days it is going to cost us.”
Scientists have suggested the latest lockdown could be having an impact on infection rates which appear to be “levelling off”.
Figures from November 8 to 14 showed the R number has fallen to between 1 and 1.1, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies said yesterday.
This means on average every 10 people infected with the virus will pass it on to another 10 or 11 people. Last week the R number was between 1 and 1.2.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, said “in the last few days” there “looks as if there’s a levelling off” in hospital patients with Covid-19. But during the Downing Street press conference, he cautioned: “That is just a few days’ data. It’s important not to read too much into it.
“We need to see data over a few more days and into next week.
“We are starting to see evidence that, as a result of restrictions, infection rates are falling.” A further 511 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Friday, bringing the UK total to 54,286.
The Government said that, as of 9am on Friday, there had been a further 20,252 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.
It brings the total number to 1,473,508.
Professor Neil Ferguson, an expert in modelling disease outbreaks and advisor to the Government ahead of the first lockdown, said: “There is evidence that infection rates are plateauing and may be starting to go down slowly.
“It is too early to assess what the overall impact by December 2 will be, though we should not expect too much, given schools are still open.
“A halving of infection prevalence over the four weeks would be a positive result.”
Katherine Kent, co-head of analysis for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, said: “There are early signs that the national level of infections in England might be levelling off but this hides a lot of variation at a regional level.”