SAGE expert issues fresh virus alert as shoppers face Christmas covid warning

12 December 2020, 11:02 | Updated: 12 December 2020, 13:52

By Joe Cook

Public health experts are warning relaxing restrictions over the festive period is a “mistake”, as shoppers are told to “stick to the rules” ahead of a busy Christmas shopping weekend.

SAGE member Susan Michie told LBC, the UK is “not in the situation we were in" when the government announced the relaxation of rules over Christmas.

The transmission level of the virus is “at a higher level everywhere and in some cases very high”, despite England’s lockdown, the UCL health expert warned.

The comments come ahead of a relaxation of rules for five days over the festive period, between December 23 and 27, allowing up to three families to meet together.

Read more: Wales' chief medical officer urges public to 'rethink plans' about seeing family at Christmas

However, Professor Michie said we should look across the Atlantic to “Canada and the United States, about what happened after their Thanksgiving festivals, where we saw a big spike and real pressures on their local health services”.

“Nobody wants to be responsible for unwittingly giving Covid to their loved ones over Christmas.”

Read more: People plan to make 13.5 million trips during Christmas bubble period

Similarly, Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said from a public health perspective the relaxation of rules over Christmas “is a mistake”.

"I completely understand why governments are doing that. Behaviourally people are fed up,” Professor Bauld said.

"If you're meeting people indoors from other households, there's poor ventilation, maybe older family members are in those bubbles, unfortunately because the virus hasn't been eliminated... I think that means the Christmas period is a risk."

Independent Sage member Dr Gabriel Scally, suggested the PM should look an alternative celebration, "maybe the middle of June," when it will be safer to gather in groups.

"Making merry with friends and relations over Christmas means you might bury some of those friends and relations in January," the health expert warned on LBC.

This week, Professor Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, also warned the public to be "very, very sensible" and not go "too far" over Christmas, which he called a "very risky period".

The latest coronavirus data shows, for the seven days to December 7, of the 315 local areas in England, 179 have seen a rise in case rates, 135 have seen a fall, and one is unchanged.

Read more: NHS Christmas Advert: Santa rushed to hospital in emotional charity ad

Read more: Royal Mail warns of delays in run up to Christmas due to Covid

While many areas in Tier 3 are seeing a decrease in cases, those in Tier 2, particularly in the South East are seeing rising transmission rates.

“The Tier 1 and the Tier 2 really haven't made much impact,” Ms Michie told LBC.

“It is not rocket science, the more that people have contact with each other, the more the transmission rates increase.”

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said Boris Johnson would “absolutely” urge people to be careful when shopping this weekend.

He added: “We’ve been clear throughout the pandemic, we would urge the public to follow the guidelines in relation to their activity to ensure that we are able to continue to drive down the transmission rates and protect communities.”

Read more: Police step in as huge crowds gather in London and Nottingham

Read more: BA staff to strike over Christmas and New Year risking cargo chaos

Last weekend saw chaotic scenes on many high streets, with police called to Harrods in London and Nottingham Christmas Market closed after just one day over social distancing concerns.

As the capital faces a potential move to Tier 3, London Councils are calling for “all Londoners to be extra safe and vigilant this weekend to save lives and jobs”.

The organisation, which represents all the local councils in the city, said it is “vital...Londoners support our local shops and hospitality industry”.

However they warned: “In order to keep infections down, we must all remain vigilant and stick to the rules as we support businesses by shopping and eating out.”

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