Matt Hancock today poured cold water on the prospect of a major loosening of coronavirus restrictions at Christmas as he said he wants a UK-wide set of rules for the festive period ‘if at all possible’.
The Health Secretary said negotiations are ongoing between the four home nations as they try to hammer out proposals which would allow people to travel to see their family.
There had been hopes of a massive easing of draconian curbs to allow people to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones.
But Mr Hancock dampened hopes of a major lifting of restrictions as he said ‘it of course won’t be like a normal Christmas’ and ‘there will have to be rules in place’.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock today dampened hopes of a major loosening of coronavirus rules over the festive period as he warned ‘it of course won’t be like a normal Christmas’
Boris Johnson is under pressure from Tory MPs to loosen rules over the festive period but the Prime Minister’s scientific advisers are warning that could result in a drastic spike in infections and deaths.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has predicted that for every day of rules being eased there would have to be five days of tough restrictions.
But ministers are now distancing themselves from the SAGE modelling, with Department of Health sources telling The Telegraph that ‘preliminary Sage modelling should not be taken as guidance for possible decisions not taken yet’.
The England-wide lockdown is due to end on December 2 and the PM is expected to set out his post-shutdown plans next week.
Mr Hancock today warned against any expectations of a significant easing of rules at Christmas.
Asked on Sky News what the rules over the festive period could look like, he said: ‘Again, on this we don’t know yet. I know how much, how important Christmas is, it is important to my family, it is important to people right across the country.
‘We want to have a set of rules, if at all possible, that is UK-wide, not least because so many people travel between different parts of the UK.
‘So we are working with the devolved authorities to try to get an agreed set of rules for Christmas.
‘It of course won’t be like a normal Christmas. There will have to be rules in place. But we hope that they’ll allow for a bit more of that normal Christmas that people really look forward to.’
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hancock dismissed calls for families to be allowed to make their own decisions on gathering at Christmas.
He said: ‘I believe in people having as much freedom as possible, subject to not harming others and the problem is that you can harm others even though you don’t know you are doing it because this disease passes on asymptomatically.’
He also appeared to rule out hugging relatives as he said people will still have to ‘respect social distancing’.
He told Times Radio: ‘It’s about getting the balance right and about allowing people to have a Christmas which undoubtedly will be different this year but still try to have that cherished Christmas with your family as much as is possible.
‘We haven’t agreed yet a set of rules and a set of arrangements for Christmas but I’ve got no doubt that people will continue to respect social distancing throughout because we know that that is so important for the control of the virus.’
Despite the gloomy forecast by the Health Secretary he did raise hopes of a mass coronavirus vaccination programme being rolled out potentially within weeks.
He said: ‘That is the hope. Nothing is guaranteed yet. Actually the big numbers in terms of if it comes through are more likely to be in the new year rather than before Christmas because we are absolutely determined that any vaccination programme will be safe.
‘But nevertheless we have had really encouraging news over the last two weeks on the main vaccinations.
‘In the meantime it is so important that people keep following those rules and the social distancing rules.
‘There are encouraging signs that the number of cases is starting to flatten and the lockdown that we brought in earlier this month is working.
‘But in the meantime everybody has got to keep following the rules. However, we have all been looking for the way out, the exit strategy, of the difficult circumstances this pandemic has necessitated and with the increasingly encouraging news on the vaccine, we can start to see that but we are not there yet.’
Boris Johnson is expected to set out his post-lockdown plans for England next week. The national shutdown is due to end on December 2
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford today said he hoped the four home nations would at the very least be able to agree to one set of travel rules for Christmas
Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford this morning said he hoped the four nations would at the very least be able to agree one set of travel rules for the festive period.
He said he had held discussions with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and the other first ministers of the devolved administrations on Wednesday about a UK-wide approach to Christmas restrictions, with another meeting planned for next week.
He told the BBC: ‘We agreed some broad parameters on Wednesday and remitted officials of all four administrations to work now on the detail, so I remain hopeful that it will be possible to reach a four-nation approach to Christmas.
‘I certainly think that is the right thing to do – if it is achievable – and certainly Wales will be at the table next week looking to find an agreement.’
Mr Drakeford said an agreement on permitting travel across the UK during the Christmas season was ‘top of the list of things to agree’, even if a wider agreement was not possible.
‘I really do hope we can have a common approach to travel,’ he added.
‘It is very important for people in Wales, so many families here will have families in England and elsewhere and will be hoping to have visits from family members who live outside Wales. On travel, I am more hopeful than I was even on other aspects of our discussion.’