UK prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to issue clear warnings urging people to think carefully about socialising over Christmas but will not scrap the five-day relaxation of the coronavirus rules during the festive period, ministers have said.
The expected decision will be in spite of stark warnings from the scientific community, with the medical publications BMJ and the Health Service Journal arguing in a rare joint editorial on Tuesday that the government ought to “reverse its rash decision to allow household mixing and instead extend the tiers over the five-day Christmas period”.
Instead of changing the existing rules, which allow three households to meet between December 23 and December 27, the prime minister is set to advise the public to take precautionary measures such as self-isolating before visiting elderly relatives.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said on Wednesday that while the “legal framework” outlining the rules over Christmas would not be altered, he strongly urged the public to exercise “personal judgment” when deciding whether or not to meet relatives.
He also cited the example of the US, which experienced a surge in infections after last month’s Thanksgiving holiday, and argued that people may want to delay large family gatherings until 2021, for example over Easter.
“We all need to use our own personal judgment, thinking about our own families whether we have particularly elderly or clinically vulnerable relatives who might be round the Christmas table, and also looking at the fact that the rates of the virus are rising in many parts of the country”, he told Sky News.
He added: “I would just urge people to use their personal judgment and to think carefully whether this is the right thing for their family.”
A senior government official confirmed late on Tuesday evening that ministers would probably toughen their guidance about minimising social contact over Christmas, rather than rewriting the rules.
In recent days, Downing Street has continued to call for the public to act sensibly ahead of Christmas. The prime minister’s spokesperson said: “I would stress again we have been clear that people need to remain cautious and responsible over the Christmas period.”
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove on Wednesday will continue talks with leaders of the devolved nations on the existing UK-wide strategy for Christmas, after talks on Tuesday afternoon failed to reach a conclusion.
The growing concern surrounding Christmas comes as London, alongside parts of neighbouring Essex and Hertfordshire moved into tier 3, the highest level of coronavirus restrictions, on Wednesday.
The government’s review of tier allocations for local authorities throughout England will take place later in the day, with updated guidance expected to be outlined by Thursday.