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Covid news: Boris Johnson urges UK to keep Christmas celebrations small as death toll passes 65,000

Follow the latest updates on the pandemic

Samuel Osborne,Tom Embury-Dennis
Wednesday 16 December 2020 22:02 GMT
Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of 'ignoring medical advice' over Christmas plans

Boris Johnson has urged Britons to “have yourself a merry little Christmas" but keep celebrations small and brief, adding: “I’m afraid this year I do mean little.”

The prime minister told MPs that the four UK nations have agreed to continue "in principle" with the easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas, allowing up to three households to mix for five days.

However, the Welsh and Scottish leaders appeared to have undermined the prime minister’s claim of an agreement, with Mark Drakeford saying only two households should come together in Wales and Nicola Sturgeon saying Scots should only meet for one day.

And opposition leader Keir Starmer accused Mr Johnson of ignoring medical advice over the Christmas plan.

The PM said he did not want to “criminalise people’s long-made plans” for the festive season, but urged people to “exercise a high degree of personal responsibility”. 

The World Health Organisation has warned Europeans to have a quiet Christmas or risk a renewed surge of the disease.

Earlier, the communities secretary admitted the Covid-19 infection rate would rise as people mix together over Christmas.

"This is a virus that thrives on social interaction, so bringing more people together, even over this short period of time, is not cost-free. It will have consequences in terms of increasing the rate. It will rise," Robert Jenrick said.

Meanwhile, it was announced that nearly 138,000 people in the UK received a first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine over the last week.

Follow the latest updates


Good morning, here are the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic.

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 07:33

Crisis talks over Christmas plans to continue today

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove will resume crisis talks over the plans for up to three households to mix for Christmas between 23 and 27 December with leaders of the devolved administrations this morning.

A UK Government source told the Press Association that the four UK nations may take differing approaches, but insisted there would be no change in the law for the festive freedoms in England.

Instead it was said the leaders would continue discussions on strengthening warnings, including advising people to stay local and reconsider whether they should spend Christmas with the elderly and clinically vulnerable.

Talks began yesterday after two leading medical journals warned a lessening of restrictions would "cost many lives", and the British Medical Association (BMA) echoed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in demanding an urgent rethink.

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 07:42

Ministers warned ‘kamikaze’ Christmas plans could fuel third wave of coronavirus

Hospitals could “buckle” under the pressure of another Covid spike caused by a Christmas rules relaxation, health leaders have warned, health correspondent Shaun Lintern reports.

There is mounting concern among NHS leaders and clinicians over the ability of the health service to cope this winter – traditionally its busiest period – with internal modelling suggesting some hospitals could see Covid patient numbers similar to those seen earlier in the year. 

Ministers warned ‘kamikaze’ Christmas plans could fuel third wave of coronavirus

NHS facing prospect of having to cancel thousands of operations

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 07:50

Use ‘personal judgement’ to decide whether to meet up with family over Christmas, communities secretary says

Robert Jenrick has said people will need to use their "personal judgment" in deciding whether to meet up with family over Christmas.

The communities secretary said the government would not be changing the "legal framework" which allows people to form household "bubbles" over five days of the holiday period.

"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.

"Thinking of some of the examples we can see internationally like Thanksgiving, for example, where lots of people coming together did have consequences after the event.

"I would just urge people to use their personal judgment and to think carefully whether this is the right thing for their family."

He added that relaxing coronavirus restrictions over Christmas will lead to a rise in the infection rate.

"This is a virus that thrives on social interaction, so bringing more people together, even over this short period of time, is not cost-free. It will have consequences in terms of increasing the rate. It will rise," he said.

Mr Jenrick suggested some people may want to put off large family gatherings until the spring.

"Easter can be the new Christmas," he said.

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 08:02

Spread of virus under Christmas mixing plans ‘really uncertain’, Sage professor says

Professor Graham Medley said the spread of coronavirus under the proposed Christmas mixing plans was "really uncertain".

The Sage member and professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that while mixing posed a risk, the closure of schools and workplaces could mitigate this.

He added: "There are two things happening over the period: one is that most workplaces and schools are closed, so that will result in reduced contact.

"On the other hand, if we all mix together and have a normal Christmas then we know that in a normal year most respiratory diseases and hospital admissions increase after Christmas anyway in a non-Covid year, so there's clearly a risk, but it really very much depends on what people do.

"It's very hard to predict and say 'oh yes, this is going to be a disaster' or 'nothing is going to happen' because it really does depend on what people decide to do."

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 08:10

Vaccinating UK population will cost £12bn

Vaccinating the population against coronavirus will cost taxpayers up to £11.7bn, the public spending watchdog has estimated, Chiara Giordano reports.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said the sum would be spent buying and making Covid-19 jabs for the UK, deploying them in England and helping global efforts to find a vaccine.  

Vaccinating UK population will cost £12bn

Government 'right to back number of horses’ but accountability contracts ‘highly unusual’, says MP

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 08:24

Families can ‘choose to do less’ than what is allowed at Christmas, housing secretary says

Robert Jenrick has said families can "choose to do less" than what is allowed under restrictions provided by the government for Christmas.

The housing secretary told BBC Breakfast: "My sense is that many people, older members of the public, are coming to the conclusion that with the great news of the vaccine it might be wise to wait and get together with family and friends a little bit later on, but I strongly feel that this is something where members of the public need to use their own judgment.

"The government can set a legal framework, and we have done and that applies across the whole of the United Kingdom, but we can't legislate for every eventuality and everything that's happening in people's own lives."

Mr Jenrick added: "My point is that the legal framework provides the law but with respect to every restriction you don't have to go that far, you can obviously choose to do less.

"The very clear guidance, I think, from the government today is you exercise good judgment, think about the particular vulnerabilities of your own family and friends who might be coming together and what's right for you'."

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 08:36

‘Clear case’ for Manchester being moved to tier 2, mayor says

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said there was a "clear case" for his region being moved down to tier 2 as the government is due to formally review what tiers are appropriate for each area.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Burnham also said he would understand if the government wanted to "err on the side of caution".

He added: "We have seen steady decreases across all of our boroughs pretty much ever since the last tiering decision, to the point where we are now essentially below the England average across the 10 boroughs - we are at 150 cases on average per 100,000 people, England averages 180.

"We are below London and below Liverpool when they went into tier 2 originally.

"I accept the national mood has changed since those decisions were taken and I can also understand if the government were wanting to err on the side of caution.

"There is a clear case for Greater Manchester, or a large part of Greater Manchester, to be placed in tier 2."

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 08:57

Christmas celebrations should be held in ‘most modest way possible’, professor says

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said Christmas celebrations should be held in the "most modest way possible" if it is necessary to mix households.

She told BBC Breakfast: "I think, when this decision was made to have this loosening, we were in a slightly different position than we are now, in the middle of the lockdown in England, the tougher tier system was about to be introduced, and I think Governments hoped that numbers would continue to go down, and that is not the case.

"Just to emphasise, we've got a lot of people in hospital now - over 18,000 - we're really heading towards the peak of just over 20,000 that we had in April."

She said that, while the safest thing would be not to mix households, there are some exceptions, and that celebrations should be postponed if possible.

Prof Bauld continued: "I think people need to be incredibly cautious if they're about to take advantage of this and really try and ask themselves do they need to do it and if they do how do they reduce the risk."

She later added: "I think all of us, just to emphasise, working in this field, we think it's a bad idea but I understand that for many people that's not a positive thing to hear and it may be impractical, so I think, to avoid the preventable deaths that we're going to have in January as a result of this, we shouldn't be doing it, but if we do do it then I think we need to do it in the most modest way possible."

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 09:13

People should change Christmas plans and not travel to see relatives, Andy Burnham says

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said people should be thinking about changing their Christmas plans and not travelling to see relatives.

Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme if not travelling over the festive period should be the "firm" advice, he said: "I think that's where we are heading.

"I think it is potentially difficult now to change the plans that people have made.

"But I think that the strong messaging does have to come in, and I think people should now be thinking about changing their plans; I just think that is where we are.

"It always was the case that five days, three households, in my view, was too much and I think people would have preferred a steadier approach through December into January."

Samuel Osborne16 December 2020 09:32

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