Health officials 'hopeful' of household mixing over Christmas

18 November 2020, 12:26 | Updated: 18 November 2020, 12:39

By Megan White

The Government is keen to have a Christmas “as close to normal as possible” but it could mean tougher restrictions are needed either side of the holiday, medical advisers warned today.

Dr Susan Hopkins, the medical adviser to the Government's Covid-19 response, suggested that "for every day that we release (measures) we will need two days of tighter restrictions".

She said ministers are working on what the "new tiers" will be after the anticipated easing date for lockdown and on a plan for Christmas.

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Dr Hopkins told a Downing Street briefing: "We are very keen that we have a Christmas as close to normal as possible.

"That requires all of us to make every effort over this national restriction period and even in early December to get the cases as low as possible and to reduce the risk of transmission within households and between families.

"A final decision will rest with the Government and we look forward to hearing what those plans are."

She added: "So, coming into Christmas we need to be very careful about the number of contacts that we have, to reduce transmission before Christmas and get our cases as low as possible.

"Hopefully the Government will make the decision that will allow us to have some mixing, but we will wait and see what that is.

"Then, I think, once we have got past the Christmas period if there has been a release and some socialisation we will all have to be very responsible and reduce those contacts again."

England's deputy chief scientific adviser Dame Angela McLean indicated the Sage advisory panel had been examining potential relaxation of measures over Christmas.

She told a Downing Street briefing: "We did send some advice in over the weekend.

"But we genuinely don't know what decisions have been made."

Asked whether households mixing could be allowed if there were other trade-offs, Dame Angela said: "What's really important is we go into a festive week when we want to mix with our friends and our family with the number of infections in the community as low as possible."

Dame Angela said that the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in the community had risen steeply in September and October but had slowed down.

She told the briefing that while it had not flattened out yet the data was from before the second national lockdown began in England and areas with high levels of infection had already started to see a drop.

She also said the latest estimated R rate - the average number of people infected by someone with coronavirus – is between one and 1.2, meaning that the disease was still spreading.

Dame Angela added: "What you see is even before national restrictions were brought in, in the parts of the country where the amount of infections was already very high the progress of the epidemic had already flattened off, that's the north west and Yorkshire and Humber.

"Those also happen to include the parts of the country that were under tier 3 restrictions so that's good news that some parts of the country have already flattened off."

The R number had been "really quite high" in late September and early October, between 1.2 and 1.5, but "has been falling, though it has not yet fallen below one".

"Only when R is less than one will the number of infections in this country be falling," she added.