British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure from fellow politicians and healthcare professionals to scrap the planned loosening of COVID-19 restrictions over Christmas with two influential medical journals issuing a joint editorial for only the second time in over 100 years.
At present up to three different households will be able to mix together indoors at homes during a Britain-wide easing of restrictions over the Christmas break between December 23-27.
However the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal have issued a joint editorial explaining that the government should be tightening the rules.
“We believe the government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives,” both publications said.
“If our political leaders fail to take swift and decisive action, they can no longer claim to be protecting the NHS.”
Speaking to the BBC, the editor of the BMJ, Dr Fiona Godlee, said the data was not helping the government in terms of its decision on the loosening of Christmas restrictions.
“They would like to have seen hospital admissions and cases and deaths going down, sadly the data show the opposite,” Dr Godlee said.
“What we will see, even on the current trend if nothing is done, by New Year’s Day, there will be as many people in hospital with COVID-19 as there were at the peak of the first phase in April.”
“That’s even without the Christmas relaxations.”
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said data would be kept “under constant review” but the government wanted to “give families and friends the option to meet up”.
“As we always have done throughout the pandemic, we keep that under constant review but our intention to allow families and friends to meet up over the Christmas period remains,” he said.
The comments come just one day after it was announced London would move to the strictest tier of England’s regional lockdown system from Wednesday after coronavirus rates in the capital soared to among the highest in the nation.
Starmer and Khan warn PM of ‘severe’ consequences
Dr Godlee’s warning was echoed by politicians as fears grow that British coronavirus-related deaths – currently at 64,500 – could continue to rise.
Britain reported 18,450 new cases of COVID 19 on Tuesday, alongside 506 new deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for an urgent review into the move, saying the government had lost control of infections and that the tiered restrictions put in place had failed to contain the spread of COVID-19.
In a Tuesday afternoon tweet, Sir Keir published a letter to Mr Johnson in which he called for an emergency meeting of COBRA, the committee that brings together senior government ministers, security and intelligence officials, military chiefs and leaders of the emergency services.
COBRA is historically called together after terrorist attacks but has already sat many times during 2020 due to the pandemic.
“The situation has clearly taken a turn for the worse since the decision about Christmas was taken,” Sir Keir wrote.
“It serves no one for politicians to ignore this fact.
“It is my view you should not convene COBRA in the next 24 hours to review whether the current relaxation is appropriate giving the rising number of cases.”
Sir Keir then suggested the tiered system had failed Britain and that if changes were not made consequences could be dire in 2021.
“The tiered system has not kept the virus under control and has left us with precious little headroom,” he added.
“Put simply, if you take the wrong decision now, the ramifications for our NHS and our economy in the New Year could be severe.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan also urged authorities to look again at the relaxing of restrictions, which he said is the wrong thing to do.
“I would encourage the government to look at their rules over Christmas,” he told British television.
“I’m not sure you’ve got it right, in fact, I’m sure you haven’t got it right in relation to the relaxations over Christmas.”