Accueil Coronavirus Calls for advice behind Christmas bubbles to be published as scientists warn...

Calls for advice behind Christmas bubbles to be published as scientists warn easing restrictions could prompt third wave

Earlier this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the decision not to publish Cabinet papers on economic assessment of measures. He said, “Cabinet papers are not typically published to protect decision-making” and added that he would discuss this with the Chancellor.

Here’s all we know about what the experts have said on easing restrictions over the holiday period.

What measures will be eased over Christmas?

The UK Government and devolved administrations have agreed a joint plan to relax social distancing rules over the festive period, allowing friends and family to hug for the first time in months.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said the decision to agree a relaxing of restrictions over Christmas was to avoid a “free for all”.

Mr Johnson acknowledged the measures would not add up to a “normal Christmas” and urged people to exercise caution, particularly when meeting with the elderly or the vulnerable.

Christmas is not going to be normal, says Chancellor

“We can’t afford to throw caution to the wind. The virus doesn’t know it’s Christmas and we must all be careful,” he said in a video message posted on Twitter.

“I know this doesn’t equate to a normal Christmas and it won’t work for everyone. And it is up to each of us to think carefully about how we use this time-limited special dispensation.

“The virus has not gone away and families will need to make a personal judgment about the risk of forming a bubble with or visiting elderly relatives and the vulnerable.”

A joint statement issued by the four UK governments said they had been working closely together to find a way for family and friends to see each other, recognising it must be “limited and cautious”.

Coronavirus hits the UK – In pictures

A deserted Westminster Bridge

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A man wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walks past customers sat outside a restaurant

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Boris Johnson addresses the nation on the Coronavirus lockdown

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Runners pass cardboard cutouts of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Prince William during the London Marathon in London

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An empty escalator at Charing Coss London Underground tube station

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Electronic bilboards displays a message warning people to stay home in Sheffield

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A sign is displayed in the window of a student accommodation building following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mancheste

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People take part in a ‘We Do Not Consent’ rally at Trafalgar Square, organised by Stop New Normal, to protest against coronavirus restrictions, in Londo

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People sing and dance in Leicester Square on the eve on the 10PM curfew

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Hearts painted by a team of artists from Upfest are seen in the grass at Queen Square, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Bristol

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Graffiti reads ‘good luck and stay safe’, as the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases grow around the world, under a bridge in London

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A sign is pictured in Soho, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures, during a coronavirus briefing in Downing Street, London

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Riot police face protesters who took part in a ‘We Do Not Consent’ rally at Trafalgar Square, organised by Stop New Normal, to protest against coronavirus restrictions in London

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A person runs past posters with a message of hope, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Manchester

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An image of The Queen eith quotes from her broadcast to the UK and the Commonwealth in relation to the Coronavirus epidemic are displayed on lights in London’s Piccadilly Circus

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Military vehicles cross Westminster Bridge after members of the 101 Logistic Brigade delivered a consignment of medical masks to St Thomas’ hospital

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Durdle Door in Dorset

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Captain Tom Moore

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Mia, aged 8, and Jack, aged 5, take part in « PE with Joe » a daily live workout with Joe Wicks on Youtube to help kids stay fit who have to stay indoors due to the Coronavirus outbreak

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An NHS worker reacts at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital during the Clap for our Carers campaign in support of the NHS

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Goats which have taken over the deserted streets of Llandudno

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Novikov restaurant in London with its shutters pulled down while the restaurant is closed

London Landscapes: Hyde Park and the Serpentine, central London.

Matt Writtle

A newspaper vendor in Manchester city centre giving away free toilet rolls with every paper bought as shops run low on supplies due to fears over the spread of the coronavirus

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Theo Clay looks out of his window next to his hand-drawn picture of a rainbow in Liverpool, as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continue

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A young man cuts another man’s hair on top of a closed hairdresser in Oxford

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General view of the new NHS Nightingale Hospital, built to fight against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London

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Jason Baird is seen dressed as Spiderman during his daily exercise to cheer up local children in Stockport, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues

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A woman wearing a face mask walks past Buckingham Palace

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A man holds mobile phone displaying a text message alert sent by the government warning that new rules are in force across the UK and people must stay at home

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Medical staff on the Covid-19 ward at the Neath Port Talbot Hospital, in Wales, as the health services continue their response to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson taking part in a virtual Cabinet meeting with his top team of ministers

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A shopper walks past empty shelves in a Lidl store on in Wallington. After spates of « panic buying » cleared supermarket shelves of items like toilet paper and cleaning products, stores across the UK have introduced limits on purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have also created special time slots for the elderly and other shoppers vulnerable to the new coronavirus.

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People on a busy tube train in London at rush hour

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Mia, aged 8 and her brother Jack, aged 5 from Essex, continue their school work at home, after being sent home due to the coronavirus

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Children are painting ‘Chase the rainbows’ artwork and springing up in windows across the country

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Social distancing in Primrose Hill

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A general view of a locked gate at Anfield, Liverpool as The Premier League has been suspended

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Homeless people in London

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A piece of art by the artist, known as the Rebel Bear has appeared on a wall on Bank Street in Glasgow. The new addition to Glasgow’s street art is capturing the global Coronavirus crisis. The piece features a woman and a man pulling back to give each other a kiss

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The Queen leaves Buckingham Palace, London, for Windsor Castle to socially distance herself amid the coronavirus pandemic

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A general view on Grey street, Newcastle as coronavirus cases grow around the world

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Matt Raw, a British national who returned from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan in China, leaves quaratine at Arrowe Park Hospital on Merseyside

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Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty (L) and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance look on as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks during a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) news conference inside 10 Downing Street

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The ticket-validation terminals at the tram stop on Edinburgh’s Princes Street are cleaned following the coronavirus outbreak.

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Locked school gates at Rockcliffe First School in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear

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A sign at a Sainsbury’s supermarket informs customers that limits have been set on a small number of products as the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases grow around the world

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Jawad Javed delivers coronavirus protection kits that he and his wife have put together to the vulnerable people of their community of Stenhousemuir, between Glasgow and Edinburgh

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A sign advertising a book titled « How Will We Survive On Earth? »

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A man who appears to be homeless sleeping wearing a mask today in Victoria

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A pedestrian walks past graffiti that reads « Diseases are in the City » in Edinburgh

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Staff from The Lyric Theatre, London inform patrons, as it shuts its doors

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A quiet looking George IV Bridge in Edinburgh

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A quieter than usual British Museum

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A racegoer attends Cheltenham in a fashionable face mask

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A commuter wears a face mask at London Bridge Station

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A empty restaurant in the Bull Ring Shopping Centre

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A deserted Trafalgar Square in London

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Passengers determined to avoid the coronavirus before leaving the UK arrive at Gatwick Airport

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Each Christmas bubble can meet at home, at a place of worship or an outdoor public location, but existing, more restrictive rules on hospitality and other venues will be maintained throughout the period.

The bubbles will have to be exclusive over the five-day period, meaning people cannot shift from one group to another – although children whose parents are separated will be allowed to move between them.

People aged over 65 in care homes will not be able to join their loved ones for Christmas, and in families where three children live away from home, they would not all be able to return for the festive period.

What have scientists said about the Christmas bubbles?

Professor Graham Medley, an expert in infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions at Christmas could lead to more people being admitted to hospital and further lockdown measures in the new year.

The Sage attendee told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we’re in a process now whereby the population’s risk of filling up the NHS is really being passed down to us as individuals.

“For other diseases like flu or hepatitis B, the Government doesn’t get involved in helping or determining what our risk is and it is really, I think, for this Christmas up to us as individuals and families to think about what our risks are and how we are going to mitigate them.

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A woman wearing a face mask walks past Christmas trees and decorations in Burlington Arcade, London

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“I think it is inevitable that if a lot of people do take that risk, even if it is a small risk, then we will end up with a lot of people in hospital and potentially having to take measures in January to lock down again.”

Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology at University College London, and a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), warned easing measures would lead to increased transmission and a possible “third wave” of infection.

“Effectively what this will be doing is throwing fuel on the Covid fire,” the professor, who is also a Sage member, told BBC2’s Newsnight on Tuesday.

He added: “With the vaccine on the way, if we are not very careful over Christmas we are really in danger of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on this one.”

Public react to Christmas coronavirus rules

What measures can people take to try to avoid spreading the virus at Christmas?

Prof Medley advised people to isolate before visiting relatives, to consider the amount of time they plan to spend with them, to remain “completely faithful” to any social bubble arrangements and to weigh up the risk of spreading Covid to those who are vulnerable.

But he said, even with mitigations in place, social interactions come with risks that “could play out very badly for some people”.

Scientists have recommended spending more time outdoors or in ventilated spaces to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, told MPs on Tuesday it was “risky” for people to meet indoors – particularly when there are elderly relatives around and alcohol could be involved.

Related

“Get outside – we know outside is so much safer than inside, go for a walk, have a meal outside,” she told a joint meeting of the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee.

“If you’re going to be inside, ventilate, open your windows, make sure there’s plenty of air circulation.”

Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews said that the virus spreads in “enclosed spaces that are crowded and stuffy” and called for funds to be allocated for outdoor community events.

Additional reporting by PA Media.

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