SAGE scientist gives UK's Covid Christmas plans a stuffing

25 November 2020, 06:29 | Updated: 25 November 2020, 07:34

A SAGE scientist has said the plans for Christmas will lead to a rise in infections
A SAGE scientist has said the plans for Christmas will lead to a rise in infections. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

A member of the Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said that plans to allow three households to mix over Christmas will be 'throwing fuel on the Covid fire'.

Yesterday the UK's devolved nations agreed on a plan to allow the rules to be relaxed in order to allow something resembling a 'normal' Christmas this year.

But Director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care Professor Andrew Hayward issued a dire warning last night: "Effectively what this will be doing is throwing fuel on the Covid fire. I think it will definitely lead to increased transmission. 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.

Read more: Christmas Covid rules - explained

"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."

Doctors also warned the plans to relax coronavirus rules over Christmas will almost certainly lead to a rise in infections. The British Medical Association (BMA) also warned that easing coronavirus restrictions over Christmas will "almost certainly" lead to a rise in the infection rate, as three households will be able to form a bubble over the festive period.

The UK Government and devolved administrations agreed a temporary easing of measures which will allow three households to mix in a bubble from December 23 to 27.

Social distancing will be relaxed within the bubbles, giving people the chance to hug friends and family for the first time in months.

BMA UK council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: "There is a careful balance to be struck when weighing up the risks associated with Covid-19 and the understandable wish to see loved ones this Christmas.

"This virus does not discriminate against certain days of the year.

"Relaxing the rules on indoor mixing for a five-day period will almost certainly carry the risk of a rise in infection rate and possibly more hospitalisation and deaths, adding further pressure on the health service, doctors and NHS staff.

"With infections levels and hospitalisations still worryingly high, and the daily death toll in the second wave now rising, we do not want loved ones to become seriously ill, hospitalised or lives put at risk this Christmas.

"The priority now must be to support the public to adhere to stringent rules around physical distancing and infection control to drive down the infection rates further by Christmas. The lower the level of infection the less risk it will place for families to meet at Christmas."

Dr Nagpaul added that "it is absolutely vital" people adopt the necessary safety precautions if mixing with other households, such as ventilating rooms and limiting physical contact when masks are not worn.

Meanwhile Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said Christmas might be what is needed to "make it through the rest of winter".

He said: "Any relaxation of the restrictions over the Christmas period will almost inevitably lead to some increase in transmission, and therefore illness, hospitalisations and sadly deaths.

"The issue is whether that increased risk is tolerable in relation to the benefits."

Prof Hunter said there will be "some downward pressure" on transmission due to schools being closed for the Christmas break, while there could be a similar effect from the tier system "working well".

He added: "Providing that the new tier system is better managed than in October, any increase in cases could be relatively short-lived.

"After Christmas, we will still have to live through a few more months of restrictions at least.

"Christmas, whether or not we celebrate the day as a religious festival, may be what we need to make it through the rest of winter."

Boris Johnson has warned families they must make a "personal judgement" about the risks.

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.

"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 judgement about the risk of forming a bubble with or visiting elderly relatives and the vulnerable."

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".