Christmas bubbles to ‘throw fuel on Covid fire’ and lead to deaths, SAGE member warns

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The UK's five-day Christmas bubble plan will "pour fuel on the Covid fire" and lead to more deaths, a SAGE member has warned.

Professor Andrew Hayward said the four nations' approach to Christmas risks triggering a third wave of the pandemic in the new year.

Earlier it was announced that three households will be able to mix indoors from December 23 to 27, regardless of existing lockdown tiers.

The rules mean families could be reunited for the festive season, although they cannot meet in pubs and care home residents over 65 are not included.

The bubbles formed must be "exclusive" and be strictly only three households over the whole five days, not just at the same time.

Family Christmas bubbles may fuel a third wave, SAGE expert Andrew Hayward warned
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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But allowing such unfettered mingling will come at a price, scientists have warned

Professor Andrew Hayward told BBC2's Newsnight: "Effectively what this will be doing is throwing fuel on the Covid fire. I think it will definitely lead to increased transmission. It is likely to lead to a third wave of infection, with hospitals being overrun, and more unnecessary deaths.

"We are still in a country where we have got high levels of infection with Covid, particularly in young people. Bringing them together for hours, let alone days, with elderly relatives, I think, is a recipe for regret for many families.

"With the vaccine on the way, if we are not very careful over Christmas we are really in danger of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on this one."

Boris Johnson conceded on Tuesday night that people must make "personal judgements" about mixing with elderly relatives.

Boris Johnson outlined the plans in a video on Twitter on Tuesday night

In a video released on his Twitter account, the Prime Minister said: "Wherever you are in the country I urge you to keep up the incredible effort that you and everyone else have been making to keep pushing the virus down.

"Of course all this means that this year Christmas will be different.

"Many of us are longing to spend time with family and friends irrespective of our faith or background. And yet we can't afford to throw caution to the wind.

"The virus doesn't know it's Christmas and we must all be careful."

Social distancing will be relaxed within the bubbles, giving people the chance to hug friends and family for the first time in months.

Professor Andrew Hayward made the grave prediction on BBC's Newsnight

It is thought that ministers believed there was little option but to relax coronavirus measures over Christmas as many people would choose to meet up anyway.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has also warned easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas will "almost certainly" lead to a rise in the infection rate, as three households will be able to form a bubble over the festive period.

BMA UK council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: "There is a careful balance to be struck when weighing up the risks associated with Covid-19 and the understandable wish to see loved ones this Christmas.

"This virus does not discriminate against certain days of the year.

There are fears Christmas mixing could lead to more coronavirus cases and hospital admissions
(Image: Andrew Teebay/Liverpool Echo)

"Relaxing the rules on indoor mixing for a five-day period will almost certainly carry the risk of a rise in infection rate and possibly more hospitalisation and deaths, adding further pressure on the health service, doctors and NHS staff.

"With infections levels and hospitalisations still worryingly high, and the daily death toll in the second wave now rising, we do not want loved ones to become seriously ill, hospitalised or lives put at risk this Christmas.

"The priority now must be to support the public to adhere to stringent rules around physical distancing and infection control to drive down the infection rates further by Christmas. The lower the level of infection the less risk it will place for families to meet at Christmas."

Dr Nagpaul added that "it is absolutely vital" people adopt the necessary safety precautions if mixing with other households, such as ventilating rooms and limiting physical contact when masks are not worn.

Meanwhile Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said Christmas might be what is needed to "make it through the rest of winter".

He said: "Any relaxation of the restrictions over the Christmas period will almost inevitably lead to some increase in transmission, and therefore illness, hospitalisations and sadly deaths.

"The issue is whether that increased risk is tolerable in relation to the benefits."

Prof Hunter said there will be "some downward pressure" on transmission due to schools being closed for the Christmas break, while there could be a similar effect from the tier system "working well".

He added: "Providing that the new tier system is better managed than in October, any increase in cases could be relatively short-lived.

"After Christmas, we will still have to live through a few more months of restrictions at least.

"Christmas, whether or not we celebrate the day as a religious festival, may be what we need to make it through the rest of winter."

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