Christmas Covid rules 'to remain the same', minister tells LBC

15 December 2020, 13:34 | Updated: 16 December 2020, 18:44

Robert Jenrick told LBC the Christmas "legal framework is going to remain the same".
Robert Jenrick told LBC the Christmas "legal framework is going to remain the same". Picture: LBC
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Housing minister Robert Jenrick has told LBC the Christmas Covid rules are "going to remain the same", but urged people to use "good judgement".

Talks on the relaxation of Covid rules over Christmas will resume at 10am on Wednesday amid pressure on Boris Johnson to rethink the three-household rule.

However, despite the ongoing discussions, the minister told LBC's Nick Ferrari that "the legal framework is going to remain the same".

He added: "The distinction I am trying to make is between the law, which is the maximum and the choices that people will make using their own personal judgement.

"I think it is important to say we all need to use our good judgement in deciding whether that is right for our own circumstances and right for the country more broadly.

"We can see the experience of the United States, for example, where Thanksgiving led to a significant rise in the number of cases. That was a cautionary tale for all of us."

Watch: Top medical journalist explains why PM must scrap Christmas rules

Ben and Isaac talk to their grandmother Sue through a window as she self-isolates at her home
Ben and Isaac talk to their grandmother Sue through a window as she self-isolates at her home. Picture: PA

Michael Gove spoke with the leaders of the devolved administrations on Tuesday afternoon following calls from senior scientists, medical publications and politicians to overturn the Christmas measures.

The Cabinet Office minister was joined by Scotland's First Minister (FM) Nicola Sturgeon, Welsh FM Mark Drakeford and Northern Ireland's FM Arlene Foster, plus her deputy Michelle O'Neill.

However, the discussion concluded after roughly one hour with the group failing to come to a conclusion on whether to scrap the rules - leaving open the possibility that families and friends could still be free to meet up over the festive period.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "The leaders of the devolved administrations and Michael Gove met this evening to discuss the arrangements over the Christmas period.

"They will reconvene tomorrow to confirm the position."

Read more: Wales will 'not lightly put aside' Christmas Covid plans

It came after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged Mr Johnson to convene an emergency meeting of the government's Cobra committee by lunchtime on Wednesday to review the situation.

As it stands, three households will still be allowed to form a bubble between 23 and 27 December due to eased travel restrictions, meaning people can also stay overnight at each other's homes.

But the Health Service Journal and British Medical Journal described the plan to ease Covid-19 rules over Christmas as a "rash decision" that will "cost many lives".

On Tuesday, Sir Keir penned a letter to the prime minister urging him to roll back on the measure to prevent putting the economy and the NHS "at grave risk in the new year".

Watch: Eddie Mair challenges Tory MP over 'nonsensical' Christmas relaxation

Explained: What are the current Christmas coronavirus rules?

He said: "It has become increasingly clear over recent days that the tier system you introduced two weeks ago has failed to control (the) transmission of Covid-19.

"Sadly, it does now appear that the government has - once again - lost control of infections, putting our economy and our NHS at grave risk in the new year."

Sir Keir added: "I understand that people want to spend time with their families after this awful year, but the situation has clearly taken a turn for the worse since the decision about Christmas was taken. It serves no-one for politicians to ignore this fact.

"It is my view that you should now convene Cobra in the next 24 hours to review whether the current relaxation is appropriate given the rising number of cases.

"If you conclude with government scientists that we need to take tougher action to keep people safe over Christmas, then you will have my support."

Read more: UK records 18,450 Covid cases and 506 deaths in 24 hours

Read more: 'New variant' of coronavirus identified in UK, Hancock says

Michael Gove met with UK leaders on Tuesday afternoon
Michael Gove met with UK leaders on Tuesday afternoon. Picture: PA

The Labour leader continued: "This is a critical moment for our country. The tiered system has not kept the virus under control and has left us with precious little headroom.

"Put simply, if you take the wrong decision now, the ramifications for our NHS and our economy in the new year could be severe."

Meanwhile, Jeremy Hunt told LBC's Shelagh Fogarty that the government needs to "look at what they're saying very, very carefully" regarding the festive period as there "is a real risk of things going badly wrong" for the NHS.

"There is a call that needs to be made by Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance and I think Boris Johnson should listen to what they say," he said.

Mr Hunt added: "I think if people were given a choice between having a more normal Christmas, but the price of that would be another third damaging lockdown in January and potentially thousands of deaths, people would say 'Actually, we're so close to the end, let's not take our foot off the pedal at this stage'."

Speaking in the Welsh Parliament, First Minister Mark Drakeford described the four nations approach to Christmas as a "hard-won agreement" and said he will "not lightly put it aside".

"I have a meeting later today with the first minister of Scotland, the first and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland and Michael Gove as the minister in charge of the Cabinet Office, no doubt this issue will be discussed," he said.

"The choice is a grim one, isn't it? I have read in my own email account over the last couple of days heart-rending pleas from people not to reverse what we have agreed for Christmas.

"People who live entirely alone, who have made arrangements to be with people for the first time, they say to me that this is the only thing that they have been able to look forward to in recent weeks.

"And yet we know, if people do not use the modest amount of additional freedom available responsibly, then we will see an impact of that on our already hard-pressed health service.

"So I think the choice is an incredibly difficult one. At the moment we have a four-nation agreement. I will discuss that later today, we will look at the figures again together."

On Tuesday evening, YouGov published the result of a poll that found 57 per cent of the public do not want the coronavirus rules to be relaxed over Christmas, compared to 31 per cent who do not want tight measures maintained.

Meanwhile, a source in the UK Government said there were no plans to change the number of days or households allowed to mix in England.

However, Downing Street conceded that the planned five-day Christmas easing was being kept "under constant review".

The source said Mr Gove and the devolved leaders had a "constructive call", adding: "There are no plans to change the regulations in England.

"We're keen to maintain a UK-wide approach and will have further discussions with DAs (devolved administrations) tomorrow morning."

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