Government should rethink relaxed Christmas rules, Sadiq Khan urges

‘The rules aren’t mandatory – just because you are allowed to see other households doesn’t mean you have too,’ says London mayor

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 15 December 2020 09:42
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<p>Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London</p>

Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London

Sadiq Khan has urged the government to review the relaxation of rules over the Christmas period amid fears of a surge in coronavirus cases in January and increased pressure on the NHS.

In an appeal to Londoners after the capital was placed into the more severe level of restrictions, the mayor also stressed that following the eased rules over the festive period is not “mandatory”.

“Just because you are allowed to see other households doesn’t mean you have too,” he said. "If you are seeing an older relation there’s no need to kiss, hug and spend too much time embracing them.”

Under current proposals agreed between the UK government and the devolved administrations, people are permitted see their relatives and to form “bubbles” with three households between 23-27 December.

The government has said there are no plans to reconsider the plans, but Matt Hancock, the health secretary, warned on Monday he could not rule out “further action” after plunging millions of people in the capital and southeast into the toughest Tier 3 restrictions.

Mr Khan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “My concern is many people may have the virus, not realise it, they could pass the virus on to an older relation and we are so close now to the end of this - the vaccine is being rolled out and families will kick themselves if they pass the virus on during Christmas.

“The experts are saying the relaxation in rules will lead to increase in the virus. The experts are saying we could well be seeing in January a surge in the virus for the simple reason that more and more people are mixing and mingling.”

Pressed on whether he was asking the government to rethink the rules, he replied: “I’ve been clear to the government, I’m concerned about going from Tier 2 to Tier 3 to Tier 0 to Tier 3 potentially to a national lockdown and the NHS being overwhelmed in January and lives being lost.

“I think the government should look at the rules again, but it’s got to be a four-nation approach. What nobody wants is one rule for London, and one rule for the rest of the four nations.

“I welcome the government looking at the rules again. I welcome if the government decides to amend the relaxation they’ve got. I think it’s possible for rules to be relaxed in a way that’s less unsafe than is currently planned.”

Speaking on Sky News, chief secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay said people need to “do the minimum” if they visit their family over the festive period, adding: “All things are always kept under review”.

"There is a balance to be struck that many families have not seen each other all year. It is important for people's wellbeing, for their mental health. We don't want to criminalise people for coming together as family over Christmas.

"But, it is important that people do the minimum that is possible. So, people will be making their own judgments."

In a separate interview, Mr Barclay reiterated the message, and rejected claims the government was moving to a “Tier 0” – suggested by the London mayor – as many restrictions, such as the closure of pubs and restaurants, will remain in force in Tier 3 areas over the festive period.

“It is a very limited set of changes which says that three households can come together over that Christmas period, but of course we encourage as many families not to do the maximum that the rules allow, but to do what is right for them as a family.”

He added the Christmas shoppers had a “duty” to act responsibly when buying presents and that businesses needed to ensure that Covid-compliant behaviour was observed in-store.

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