LONDON: People in the UK should keep social contact to a “minimum” over Christmas, a minister has warned, as millions of people prepare to move into England’s toughest tier of coronavirus rules.
London is one of the areas joining tier three on Wednesday, amid warnings a new strain of the virus has spread. No 10 said it would not review plans to allow household mixing over Christmas. But two leading medical journals have said the plans are a “another major error that will cost many lives”.
The Health Service Journal (HSJ) and British Medical Journal (BMJ) wrote in a joint editorial: “Members of the public can and should mitigate the impact of the third wave by being as careful as possible over the next few months. But many will see the lifting of restrictions over Christmas as permission to drop their guard.”
The publications said the Christmas guidelines, which allow households to mix over a five-day period, were a “rash decision”, adding: “We believe the government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives.”
Cabinet minister Stephen Barclay said people must “act responsibly” over Christmas.
What are tier-3 rules?
You cannot mix indoors, in private gardens or in most outdoor venues, except with your household or bubble
You can meet in a group of up to six in other outdoor spaces, such as parks, beaches or countryside
Shops, gyms and personal care services (such as hairdressing) can stay open
Bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants must stay closed, except for delivery and takeaway
Sports fans cannot attend events in stadiums
Indoor entertainment venues – such as bowling alleys and cinemas – must stay closed
People are advised not to travel to and from tier three areas
He told BBC Breakfast he understood families wanted to meet up after a “very difficult” year, but added: “I won’t see my parents over Christmas, but I will see my parents-in-law and those are the decisions many families will take.
“We’ve got to trust the British people to act responsibly and do the minimum that is possible for them in their family situation.”
He warned that the five-day easing of restrictions from 23 to 27 December should not be “misinterpreted”, adding: “It’s not that the restrictions are being lifted in their entirety – we’re not going from tier three to some sort of tier zero.”
Some 10.8 million people joined tier three on Wednesday, bringing the total number of people living under the toughest restrictions to 34 million people – or 61% of England’s population.
Under tier three – very high alert – rules, pubs and restaurants must close, except for takeaway and delivery, and indoor entertainment venues such as theatres, bowling alleys and cinemas must remain shut.
Schools can remain open, but the government has threatened legal action against Greenwich Council, in south-east London, after it wrote to head teachers asking all schools to move classes online amid a rise in Covid cases.
Speaking at a Downing Street briefing on Monday evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the virus was doubling in some areas of England roughly every seven days. It would only take a few doublings of cases for hospitals in the capital, Essex and Kent to be “overwhelmed”, he warned.
Mr Hancock acknowledged the latest measures would be a “blow” to people and businesses, but said “further action” could not be ruled out. He also revealed on Monday that an initial analysis of a new variant of coronavirus suggested it was “growing faster than the existing variant”, which should serve as a “warning to us all” to stay “vigilant”.