Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told MPs that the four UK nations have agreed to continue “in principle” with the easing of Covid restrictions over Christmas.
The leaders of the UK’s four nations are expected to issue a joint statement regarding rules during the festive period today (16 December).
Plans to allow families and friends to mix over Christmas will go ahead, despite concerns the relaxation of rules will lead to a rise in infection rates.
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Joint statement coming
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, and the leaders of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, finished urgent talks about the scheduled relaxation of rules at around 10.45am on Wednesday morning.
Talks between the UK government and leaders from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are understood to have backed the planned relaxation of restrictions, despite warnings from medical experts about the dangers.
Scientists have warned that the decision to press ahead with relaxing the rules could “cost many lives”. Both the Health Service Journal and British Medical Journal described lifting the restrictions as “rash,” and say the public may see the easing of measures as “permission to drop their guard.”
The government has urged “extreme caution” around social mixing over Christmas, in an effort to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday (16 December) afternoon alongside England’s chief medical officer professor Chris Whitty, No 10 has confirmed.
Stricter rules in Wales
Under current guidance, up to three households will be allowed to meet indoors over a five day period, from 23 to 27 December in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
However, in Wales, only two households will be allowed to come together to form a Christmas bubble over the five-day period.
First Minister Mark Drakeford told the Welsh Government briefing: “Here in Wales, the position is that only two households should come together to form an exclusive Christmas bubble during the five-day period.
“The fewer people we mix with in our homes, the less chance we have of catching or spreading the virus.“None of us wants to be ill this Christmas. And we don’t want to give coronavirus to our close family or friends.”
Mr Drakeford also announced that on 28 December tighter restrictions for household mixing, staying-at-home, holiday accommodation and travel will apply across Wales.
All non-essential retail, including close contact services and all leisure and fitness centres, will close at the end of trading on Christmas Eve and all hospitality premises will close from 6pm on Christmas Day.
He added that the whole of Wales would move to “alert level four” and restrictions would be tightened across the country to control the spread of coronavirus.
Stronger warnings across UK
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to “exercise extreme caution” while celebrating Christmas.
It is expected that the public will be urged to keep travel to a minimum and use common sense in regard to social contact, in an effort to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.
However, Sir Peter Hendy told the Transport Committee it was a decision for the government as to whether travel should be restricted.
“It is for the government to tell people what to do if it needs to stop travel to various parts of the country and I don’t think it is a good idea to restrict transport capacity.
“As for travelling by car, unless the police block roads, there is no way of stopping it.
“Currently my understanding, the situation has been reviewed and the five-day travel window is being left intact.”
Scots advised to stay home
In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has urged Scots to stay in their own homes at christmas, unless it is “essential” to meet with others indoors. In this case, this should only be for one day only and not overnight.
Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish government intends to issue strengthened guidance on Christmas Covid regulations later on Wednesday (16 December) and hopes this will have been agreed UK-wide.
She also added that the Scottish government recommends against travel from areas with a high prevalence of coronavirus to parts of the country where cases are lower.
Ms Sturgeon said: “If you haven’t made plans to form a bubble, please don’t.
“If you are still swithering, please decide against. And if you have made plans but think they are not really essential, please think about postponing until later in the year.
“The reality is that this Christmas simply can’t be normal. But we have every reason to hope that next year’s will be much more normal.”