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A growing number of experts and politicians are urging the government to rethink plans to relax Covid restrictions over Christmas. They include:
Many are warning that allowing three households to gather for five days will inevitably lead to a rise in infections, a surge in hospital cases, and unnecessary deaths.
Prof Andrew Hayward, the director of the UCL institute of epidemiology and healthcare, who has contributed to meetings of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), has said that to continue with the easing of restrictions would be “throwing fuel on the Covid fire”.
Prof Gabriel Scally, a visiting professor of public health at the University of Bristol and a member of the Independent Sage group of experts, has voiced similar concerns. ‘There is no point having a very merry Christmas and then burying friends and relations in January and February,” he has said.
Venki Ramakrishnan, a Nobel prize-winning biologist and previously head of the Royal Society, has also warned of the repercussions of the relaxation, although he said the rules were for the government to make. “I think if restrictions are relaxed as planned, and people take advantage of relaxed rules, it will lead to another surge at a particularly bad time,” he said.
Some scientists, including the epidemiologists Prof John Edmunds of Sage and Prof Chris Whitty, have said the rules are an attempt to find a balance between the desire to meet family and friends and the need to control the virus.
But they and others have urged individuals to remember that “can” doesn’t mean “should”.
“From a purely epidemiological standpoint we should not relax our guard at Christmas, particularly as the prevalence of Covid in the community remains dangerously high,” Edmunds said.
The Royal College of Physicians said coronavirus restrictions had taken a heavy toll on people and it was understandable families wanted to meet. But it urged people to be very careful. “Our advice has to be: keep your distance at Christmas and don’t spend any longer together than you need to – less is more this year.”
However, the British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal called on Tuesday for Christmas Covid rules to be reversed, warning that should the relaxation go ahead, many lives could be lost.
A joint editorial called on the government to “reverse its rash decision to allow household mixing and instead extend the tiers over the five-day Christmas period in order to bring numbers down in the advance of a likely third wave.
“It should also review and strengthen the tier structure, which has failed to suppress rates of infection and hospitalisation.”
The call has been echoed by the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, whose president, Dr Claudia Paoloni, described the government as setting the NHS up for an avoidable emergency.
“Inaction will mean patients dying needlessly and thousands of critical cases going untreated. The government must move now, urgently, to reverse these kamikaze plans,” she said.
Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers, has said the relaxation of rules could wrongly give the impression that increasing social contact does not raise risk, while he also flagged worries about the capacity of NHS hospitals to handle a surge in patients in the coming months.
Meanwhile, the Welsh Intensive Care Society chairman, Dr Richard Pugh, has urged the Welsh government to change tack, noting that critical care is already over capacity.
The relaxation of rules “makes no sense viewed from a perspective of frontline staff and public health”, he has said.
A growing number of politicians are calling for a rethink of the Christmas rules.
Among them, the Tory MP Tobias Ellwood has asked the health secretary, Matt Hancock, to review the Christmas plan to avert a third wave. “My concern is letting down our guard for five days during Christmas could be very dangerous indeed,” he said.
Labour has also called on the government to rethink its rules. In a letter to the prime minister, the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, wrote: “Put simply, if you take the wrong decision now, the ramifications for our NHS and our economy in the new year could be severe.”
Such sentiments have also been voiced by Labour’s Andy Burham, the mayor of Greater Manchester. The government “is allowing too much. They have given the green light for Christmas but what price will people have to pay. The government has not got the balance right. This is too much,” he has said.
Other countries are already tightening restrictions over the festive period. Among them, Germany will have a lockdown over Christmas, with no more than four guests over the age of 14 allowed at family gatherings between 24 and 26 December.
Netherlands and the Czech Republic have also introduced a lockdown over the festive period, with Italy also looking at tightening – rather than relaxing – rules.
“This year’s Christmas will be totally different, but that is the result of the situation we are in,” the Czech health minister, Jan Blatný, told a news conference.
In the Netherlands, households can have up to two guests a day, expanded to three for 24-26 December, excluding children under 13, while in the Czech Republic public gatherings will be limited to six people indoors and out.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘Kamikaze’: the experts urging UK to rethink Christmas Covid rules | Politics