Christmas lockdown: Families could face a month of restrictions

18 November 2020, 18:13 | Updated: 19 November 2020, 14:13

Discussions are still ongoing about restrictions over Christmas
Discussions are still ongoing about restrictions over Christmas. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

For each day of any potential relaxed coronavirus restrictions over Christmas in England, five days of tighter measures will be needed later, health chiefs have said.

Epidemiologist Doctor Susan Hopkins initially said that for every one day of relaxed restrictions over the festive periosd, two days of tighter restrictions would be needed.

But Public Health England just hours later clarified that SAGE advice states that for each day of relaxed restrictions, five days of tighter restrictions will be needed.

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Dr Susan Hopkins, the medical adviser to the Government's Covid-19 response, said ministers are working on what the "new tiers" will be after the anticipated easing date for lockdown and on a plan for Christmas.

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."

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Experts have said they are "hopeful" households will be able to mix over the festive period, but current figures of infections mean it is too early to say if that will be a definite.

Dr Hopkins 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."

It comes as ministers work out what new tiers should replace the previous system once England emerges from the current lockdown on December 2.

Scientists including Dr Hopkins have said the previous Tier 1 had very little effect on reducing coronavirus cases, with the highest impact found from enhanced restrictions in Tier 3 areas.

Deputy chief scientific adviser Dame Angela McLean told Wednesday's briefing the Sage had been examining a potential relaxation of measures over Christmas.

She said: "We did send some advice in over the weekend, but we genuinely don't know what decisions have been made."

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

Some areas with high levels of infection had already started to see a drop before the lockdown was brought in on November 5, she 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 latest reproduction rate - the R value - of the virus is still above one, according to most recent estimates, meaning the disease is still spreading.

Dame Angela said it would not be a problem for easing England's lockdown if the R rate remained above one next week, due to the lag in calculating the value.

She told the Downing Street briefing: "The way we estimate R is very dominated by lagging indicators - people who are in hospital or people who have died.

"People who are going in to hospital now are people who got infected weeks ago."

But she said an increase in people's activity on the day before England's latest lockdown came into effect was a "worry to us".

Asked whether that was a concern when considering measures ahead of Christmas, she said: "We are concerned about how can we have a safe run-up to Christmas so that we can have some kind of a good family Christmas."

Dame Angela also said that while hospitalisations during the March/April lockdown were halving every three weeks, she did not think that would be achieved this time round.