Christmas Covid rules could trigger third wave and New Year lockdown, SAGE scientist warns

26 November 2020, 00:49 | Updated: 26 November 2020, 01:43

A leading scientist has expressed concern about relaxed coronavirus rules over Christmas
A leading scientist has expressed concern about relaxed coronavirus rules over Christmas. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

A third wave of coronavirus next year and another national lockdown could be "inevitable" due to Christmas Covid rules, a SAGE scientist has warned.

Boris Johnson has told families they must make a "personal judgment" about the risks of the virus when making plans with vulnerable loved ones, but Professor Graham Medley, an expert in infectious disease modelling, said the relaxation of the rules could lead to more people being admitted to hospital and further lockdown measures in the new year.

The Sage attendee and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine professor told reporters on Wednesday: "I think we're in a process now whereby the population's risk of filling up the NHS is really being passed down to us as individuals.

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"For other diseases like flu or hepatitis B, the Government doesn't get involved in helping or determining what our risk is and it is really, I think, for this Christmas up to us as individuals and families to think about what our risks are and how we are going to mitigate them.

"I think it is inevitable that if a lot of people do take that risk, even if it is a small risk, then we will end up with a lot of people in hospital and potentially having to take measures in January to lock down again."

The Prime Minister urged the public to "think carefully" over the festive period after it was confirmed that three households will be able to mix from December 23 to 27.

Mr Johnson acknowledged the measures would not add up to a "normal Christmas" and urged people to exercise caution, particularly when meeting with the elderly or the vulnerable.

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"We can't afford to throw caution to the wind. The virus doesn't know it's Christmas and we must all be careful," he said in a video message posted on Twitter.

"I know this doesn't equate to a normal Christmas and it won't work for everyone. And it is up to each of us to think carefully about how we use this time-limited special dispensation.

"The virus has not gone away and families will need to make a personal judgment about the risk of forming a bubble with or visiting elderly relatives and the vulnerable."

Another coronavirus lockdown could be triggered by relaxing rules at Christmas, a leading scientist has warned
Another coronavirus lockdown could be triggered by relaxing rules at Christmas, a leading scientist has warned. Picture: PA Images

Prof Medley advised people to isolate before visiting relatives, to consider the amount of time they plan to spend with them, to remain "completely faithful" to any social bubble arrangements and to weigh up the risk of spreading Covid to those who are vulnerable.

But he said, even with mitigations in place, social interactions come with risks that "could play out very badly for some people".

Director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care Professor Andrew Hayward also issued a dire warning on Tuesday night, claiming that relaxing the rules is an act of "throwing fuel on the Covid fire".

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"I think it will definitely lead to increased transmission," he said, "it is likely to lead to a third wave of infection, with hospitals being overrun, and more unnecessary deaths.

"We are still in a country where we have got high levels of infection with Covid, particularly in young people. Bringing them together for hours, let alone days, with elderly relatives, I think, is a recipe for regret for many families.

"With the vaccine on the way, if we are not very careful over Christmas we are really in danger of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on this one."

UK leaders agreed a joint plan to relax social distancing rules over the festive period on Tuesday after several days of talks.

A joint statement issued by the four UK governments said they had been working closely together to find a way for family and friends to see each other, recognising it must be "limited and cautious".

Each Christmas bubble can meet at home, at a place of worship or an outdoor public location, but existing, more restrictive rules on hospitality and other venues will be maintained throughout the period.

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Despite the new measures, families and groups of friends will still face difficult decisions and restrictions on their activities.

The bubbles will have to be exclusive over the five-day period, meaning people cannot shift from one group to another - although children whose parents are separated will be allowed to move between them.

People aged over 65 in care homes will not be able to join their loved ones for Christmas, and in families where three children live away from home, they would not all be able to return for the festive period.