Sunday, 6 Dec 2020

Families will be able to meet at Christmas but not in large groups says minister

Families will be able to meet at Christmas but large gatherings may be banned, a Cabinet minister has said.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said families across the UK will be able to have a ‘good Christmas’, although he admitted it is ‘far too early’ to set out specific guidelines for the festive period.

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘Christmas is an important time for families, we recognise that. I’m sure that we will be able to have a good Christmas and that families will be able to meet, but they may not be able to get together in larger groups that they normally would.’

He also said that meeting families living under different tiers is ‘not provided for currently’. He suggested under the current rules, only families living under the same restrictions would be able to meet in small groups.

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He added on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday morning: ‘It’s far too early to say exactly where things will be by Christmas, but the Prime Minister’s made clear he wants people to be able to have a Christmas that’s as close to possible as normal.’

Mr Eustice rejected demands from the Liberal Democrats that coronavirus restrictions should be planned with the Christmas period in mind.

He said: ‘We should set our guidelines, not as the Lib Dems say based on Christmas is coming, we should set our guidelines based on the epidemiology of this virus and follow the science and respond to emerging situations in a proportionate way.’

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has called for four-nation Covid planning in relation to Christmas, warning that people face confusion and complexity over potential restrictions.

Mr Eustice also said a national lockdown to control coronavirus is not necessary because ‘the measures we’re taking are certainly holding it back’ and scientists are unsure how much it could achieve in two weeks.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has said the Government’s failure to introduce a circuit-break lockdown over the school half-term has ‘put Christmas at risk’ and urged ministers to ‘do something quickly to save Christmas’.

But the Environment Secretary told Times Radio the tiered system has reduced the natural R rate of the virus of between 2.7 and 3 to the current level of between 1.4 and 1.5.

Mr Eustice said: ‘Sage themselves, when they posited that (a circuit-breaker) as one option, highlighted that it was uncertain how much it would achieve in two weeks and whether it would be enough, and also that there would be lots of negative consequences of such an intervention.’

However he was unable to give a timeframe for how long tiered restrictions are expected to last.

Mr Eustice added: ‘The difficulty with this is we know what happened in the last lockdown, but that was in March and April as we’re going into spring and summer, and this virus, like many viruses, is very seasonal, and wet winter nights and days are quite conducive to the spread of the virus.’

He said the Government introduced tiered restrictions for local areas in a ‘timely way’. Speaking on Times Radio, he said: ‘In some ways we’ve always anticipated that there would be a second spike.

‘That’s why we have been monitoring the situation closely since September, introducing, in a timely way, restrictions that are appropriate to the level of prevalence in particular parts of the country with these three different levels of intervention.

‘And we’re adding to that all the time, so yesterday Warrington was put into the very high risk area, and there’s discussions now about Nottingham.

‘So we’re trying to intervene in things in a proportionate way across the country, but we don’t think it’s appropriate to have a national lockdown, because there’s parts of the country, like Cornwall, where the incidence of the disease is actually very low.’

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