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Rules allowing families to meet over Christmas could be reviewed after stark warnings from hospitals and experts about the risk to the NHS from a surge in coronavirus cases.
The Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, is to meet representatives from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to discuss the UK-wide approach agreed a fortnight ago, which would allow three households to meet indoors over five days.
A government source said the meeting had been convened to discuss “the current circumstances” around the Christmas rules but said nothing had yet been agreed. “We keep all policies under review, this one is no different, it would be irresponsible not to assess where things are given the circumstances,” one source said.
Options under consideration are understood to include reducing the rules relaxation period from five to three days, as well as reducing mixing from three to two households, although nothing has been finalised.
Another Whitehall source confirmed that discussions were taking place, and that if anything was going to change it was likely to be announced “sooner rather than later”.
They said: “It’s a really difficult decision. From a public health perspective, the implications are maybe clear, but there are a lot more things to consider.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon advised the Holyrood parliament that her government was now considering whether any changes to the Christmas rules were necessary as she delivered her weekly review of Scotland’s 5-level system of Covid controls.
She told MSPs that she had been advised that, through genomic sequencing, nine cases of the new Covid variant had been identified in Scotland, all within the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.
“We are considering whether any additional precautions are necessary in light of what we know so far – including whether there should be any change over the Christmas period because of this or the wider context – and I will discuss all of this with the other UK governments in a four nations call later this afternoon.”
This had been planned as the last review before Christmas, but Sturgeon told MSPs that – in light of “volatile” case numbers in some areas – there will be another review next Tuesday.
Labour has called on the Westminster government to rethink its decision to allow households to mix between 23 and 27 December, saying the consequences could be unthinkable. In a letter to Boris Johnson, the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, urged him to convene a meeting of the UK government’s emergency Cobra committee and said Labour would support the government if it changed the rules.
Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who chairs the Commons health committee, also urged ministers to consider changing the plans for Christmas, saying it would be “a very, very dangerous and precarious situation” for the NHS to enter January with very high levels of bed occupancy from Covid.
The meeting comes amid mounting calls from senior medics for a rethink of the Christmas relaxation plans. In a rare joint editorial, the British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal said the government could no longer claim to be protecting the NHS if it went ahead with its “rash” plans to allow households to mix indoors over Christmas.
Countries across Europe have announced strict lockdowns over the festive period, including Germany, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: UK rules for Christmas could be reviewed as coronavirus cases surge | Coronavirus