Wales will 'not lightly put aside' Christmas plans ahead of four nations meeting

15 December 2020, 16:19

First Minister Mark Drakeford speaking at a coronavirus press conference
First Minister Mark Drakeford speaking at a coronavirus press conference. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The Welsh First Minister has said he will "not lightly put aside" the "hard-won" four nations agreement over household mixing at Christmas ahead of an urgent meeting later today.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove will hold a call with the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Tuesday to discuss the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions.

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

Under current plans, eight people from three households will be able to mix indoors between 23 and 27 December.

READ MORE: Top medical journalist explains why PM must scrap Christmas Covid rules

READ MORE: What are the current Christmas coronavirus rules?

Tuesday’s meeting has come at the request of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, she told nation's parliament today, adding there was a case for “looking at whether we tighten the flexibilities... both terms of duration and numbers of people meeting”.

In Northern Ireland, politicians have already been warned by experts to urgently rethink Christmas plans amid concerns of huge pressures on hospitals.

But Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford told the Welsh Parliament there are no easy options.

He said: "The four-nation agreement over Christmas was hammered out in detail over four different meetings between the four nations.

"It was a hard-won agreement. I will not lightly put it aside.

"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.

"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.

"I think the choice is an incredibly difficult one."

Mr Drakeford said having a "rule-based approach to Christmas" with modestly increased amounts of freedom for people is "preferable than a free-for-all".

But he warned whatever happens, "harm is done".

"If we seek to prevent people from meeting over Christmas, a different sort of harm will be done to people's sense of mental health, to people's sense of how they can survive through this incredibly difficult year together," he said.

Ms Sturgeon said: "I do think there is a case for us looking at whether we tighten the flexibilities that were given any further, both in terms of duration and numbers of people meeting.

"I will consider the views of the other nations, if we can come to a four-nations agreement I think that would be preferable, if that is not possible we will continue to consider within the Scottish Government what we think is appropriate."

She urged "utmost caution" regarding Christmas plans.

She said: "If you can avoid mixing with other households over Christmas, especially indoors, please do

"If you feel it essential to do so - and we have tried to be pragmatic in recognising that some people will - then please reduce your unnecessary contacts as much as possible between now and then."

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