Scientists confirm they’ve planned for relaxing lockdown on Christmas – but at a price
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Scientists today confirmed they have drawn up plans the government could use to relax lockdown over Christmas.
Experts told a Downing Street briefing they sent information to the government over the weekend for what could happen over the festive break.
Reports suggest Boris Johnsoncould relax lockdown rules for between three and five days to allow family get-togethers. Gatherings could have people from up to three households, reports suggest.
But while the scientists today confirmed a family Christmas may be possible, they warned it could come at a price – tougher rules either side of the break in return.
Asked if "some sort of Christmas" was possible, Dr Susan Hopkins, medical adviser on the Covid-19 response, said: "I think it is”.
But she added: "The other thing I would say is some of the SAGE advice previously suggested that for every day that we release, we’ll need two days of tighter restrictions.
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"So coming into Christmas, we’ll need to be very careful about the number of contacts we have to reduce transmission before Christmas and get our cases as low as possible.
"Hopefully the government will make the decision that will allow us to have some mixing but we will wait and see what that is.
"And then I think once we’ve got past the Christmas period, if there’s been a release and some socialisation, we’ll all have to be very responsible and reduce those contacts again."
Dame Angela McLean, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence, confirmed: "We did send some advice in over the weekend but we genuinely don’t know what decisions have been made"
The scientists warned the R number is still above 1 – though there is a time lag on the data
She added: "We are very keen that we have a Christmas as close to normal as possible.
"That requires all of us to make every effort over this national restriction period and even in early December to get the cases as low as possible and to reduce the risk of transmission within households and between families.
"A final decision of course will rest with the government and we look forward to hearing what those plans are."
Dame Angela McLean, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence, confirmed: "We did send some advice in over the weekend but we genuinely don’t know what decisions have been made.”
Dame Angela emphasised she had "no idea" what government would do. "We're advisors. We advise, they decide", she said.
Asked whether households mixing could be allowed if there were other trade-offs, Dame Angela said: "What's really important is we go into a festive week when we want to mix with our friends and our family with the number of infections in the community as low as possible."
Asked if "some sort of Christmas" was possible, Dr Susan Hopkins, medical adviser on the Covid-19 response, said: "I think it is”
It came as the scientists gave an update of the state of coronavirus in England halfway through the four-week national lockdown.
The proportion of people testing positive is still rising and stands at about 1 in 85 people in England's community, but less quickly than in recent weeks.
The epidemic has continued to rise in the South West and South East.
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The proportion of people in the community with cases is continuing to rise, but not as quickly
Experts told the briefing the R number is not yet falling below 1 – but stressed there was a "time lag" on the data. That means it is "not a particular worry" yet, they said.
Stephen Powis, National Medical Director of NHS England said there “is beginning to be an effect” in some areas, including the North West.
But he warned 14,313 patents are in hospital beds – an increase of 1,444 in the space of about a week – and deaths are still rising with 598 UK deaths reported on November 17.
Prof Powis said it was crucial to get into the "real heart of winter" with "much much lower" numbers of Covid patients in hospitals.
Activity has dropped off during the national lockdown
Dr Susan Hopkins, medical adviser on the Covid-19 response, said the number of people dying was higher than expected at this time of the year, and the increase in excess mortality is “clearly concerning”.
SAGE drew up the possible scenarios for Christmas in a paper on October 28. If the virus remains “high and controlled”, there will be “little to no scope for loosening of social distancing rules over Christmas.”
But if it falls to “low and controlled” levels, there will be scope for a temporary easing of the rules, SAGE said.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma told the BBC “I want to have my mum and dad round” but added: “It’s too early to be reaching any conclusions on that." He refused to say when any Christmas rules might be confirmed.
Before Christmas, England is expected to return to the "tiers" system of local lockdowns from December 2.
Dr Hopkins previously warned those tiers may need to be "strengthened" compared to how they were in October, as Tier 1 had not brought the virus down.
NHS National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis said he was self-isolating after a member of his household had tested positive for coronavirus.
He told the Downing Street briefing he was asymptomatic and feeling fine but was going to stay at home and complete his period of self-isolation.
Prof Powis added: "I am on Zoom today, I can't join you in Downing Street and that's because a member of my household recently tested positive for covid and on the instructions from Test and Trace I am self-isolating.
"I should say I am completely asymptomatic and perfectly fine but I will be staying at home until I have completed my period of isolation."