Christmas relaxations could lead to Covid 'tsunami', nursing chief warns

18 December 2020, 06:27

The Christmas relaxations could lead to a "tsnuami" of Covid cases, a nursing chief has warned
The Christmas relaxations could lead to a "tsnuami" of Covid cases, a nursing chief has warned. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

The relaxations of Covid rules over Christmas could lead to an "unrelenting tsunami" of cases, a nursing chief has warned, as larger areas of England prepare to be plunged into Tier 3 restrictions.

Around 68% of the population will be living under Tier 3 measures from Saturday as the Government tries to stem rising infections which have led to fresh concerns about households mixing over the festive period.

Announcing which areas would come under more stringent measures yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned of rising infections, saying: "We mustn't blow it now".

But Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said without restricting the measures, "we would begin 2021 in the worst possible way".

She has called for ministers to give "fresh and more detailed" advice to the public with a week to go until Christmas.

"After a difficult year, it is everybody's instinct to want to be together and see loved ones - especially those who live far apart or feel isolated. But what is at stake is coming into sharp focus," she said.

"Travelling and family visits associated with this time of year will undoubtedly lead to more cases, more pressure on NHS and care services, and more deaths. By turning the second and third waves into an unrelenting tsunami, we would begin 2021 in the worst possible way."

But Dame Donna Kinnair said without restricting the measures, "we would begin 2021 in the worst possible way".
But Dame Donna Kinnair said without restricting the measures, "we would begin 2021 in the worst possible way". Picture: PA

She said nurses would not enjoy Christmas "knowing what awaits them in January" and called on the Government to be "clearer about the risks - not just the rules", warning: "This virus isn't taking Christmas off and nor should we."

Up to three households are able to mix between December 23 and 27, while travel to and from Northern Ireland is also permitted on December 22 and 28.

Read more: Hospitals in Wales near full capacity with just 10 critical care beds left

In a bid to control the spread of coronavirus, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Thursday that Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Peterborough, Hertfordshire, Surrey (with the exception of Waverley), Hastings and Rother (on the Kent border of East Sussex), and Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant in Hampshire will all move into Tier 3.

Under the top level of restrictions, pubs and restaurants can only offer takeaway or delivery services and indoor entertainment venues are shut.

The changes mean a total of 38 million people will be living in Tier 3 from Saturday - 68% of the population of England.

A little good news came for Bristol and North Somerset, which will move from Tier 3 to Tier 2, while Herefordshire will go down into Tier 1, although the county's public health director raised concerns about the relaxation of measures there.

The announcements added to unease on the Tory benches about the Government's response to the pandemic, with Steve Baker, deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptic Conservatives, calling for clarity on how areas move between tiers.

Read more: Rate of Covid in Wales almost three times higher than in England

Elsewhere in the UK, ministers in Northern Ireland agreed to introduce a six-week lockdown from Boxing Day to curb rising cases - with the closure of non-essential retail and contact services, as well as restricting the hospitality sector to takeaway only.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford warned that "small acts of selfishness" on an individual level were adding up to the problems seen in Wales, as he predicted in an interview with the BBC that other parts of the UK may need to introduce stricter restrictions after Christmas.

Northern Ireland will be entering a six-week lockdown from Boxing Day
Northern Ireland will be entering a six-week lockdown from Boxing Day. Picture: PA

And in Scotland, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said tougher coronavirus restrictions after the festive period - including a potential lockdown - is a "possibility" due to a "rising tide of Covid".

The latest areas to join Tier 3 come after London and parts of Hertfordshire and Essex were placed under the top level of restrictions earlier this week.

Covid-19 case rates are rising in all but one region of England, according to the latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England.

The highest rate is in London, which stood at 319.3 cases per 100,000 people in the week to December 13, up from 199.9 in the previous week.

In eastern England the rate has risen from 152.9 to 249.1, while in south-east England the rate has increased from 167.6 to 238.7.

The only region that recorded a week-on-week fall was Yorkshire and the Humber, where the rate dropped slightly from 153.6 to 148.5.

Mr Hancock said: "I regret having to take the action that we have to take. I deem it necessary and there is a strong view right across Government that these actions are necessary."