What we know about the five days of Christmas, 25 days of lockdown plan

In exactly five weeks time it will be Christmas Eve, and we usually would have made our plans for Christmas by now.

But this is not a normal year and a plan for how we can celebrate the festivities and deal with coronavirus is still being worked on.

Wales’ health minister Vaughan Gething has already warned that treating the festive period like a normal year will see more people dying from coronavirus.

What we do know is that the four nations of the United Kingdom are working together to come up with a joint approach to Christmas, and there have been reports this week that household mixing could be allowed over Christmas.

This is what it could look like:

How would it work?

The Government is considering ways to allow people to spend time with family over the festive period, although a senior health official said any socialising would likely have to be followed by “very responsible” behaviour and a reduction in contacts again.

Reports suggest households might be allowed to mix indoors for a five-day period from Christmas Eve, and that ministers are considering plans to allow three or four households to form bubbles.

Churches are likely to be allowed to hold Christmas Day services, the Daily Telegraph reported.

A five-day easing could mean a potential 25-day period of tighter measures into January if the Government follows advice from Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies).

With Christmas Eve falling on a Thursday and a bank holiday Monday on December 28, it is thought that ministers are looking at that five-day period to allow some sort of indoor gatherings.

What do the experts say?

Some have warned that each day’s freedom might require five days of tougher measures to make up for it.

Dr Susan Hopkins, a senior medical adviser to the Government’s Covid-19 response, suggested tougher restrictions could be needed either side of Christmas if curbs are to be eased for a time.

She told a Downing Street briefing: “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.”

While she said scientists had suggested that one day of greater freedom required two days of restrictions, PHE later said Dr Hopkins “misspoke” and that Sage advice had referred to modelling indicating that for every one day of relaxation, five days of tighter restrictions could be needed.

She said she was hopeful the Government would make a decision “that will allow us to have some mixing”, but added: “Once we have got past the Christmas period, if there has been some release and some socialisation, we will all have to be very responsible and reduce those contacts again.”

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Will the plans include Wales?

Boris Johnson wants to ease coronavirus rules to allow families to be reunited over Christmas and his Government has been working with counterparts in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to agree to a UK-wide approach.

His official spokesman said: “We are looking at ways to ensure that people can spend time with close family over Christmas at the end of what has been an incredibly difficult year.”

The Welsh Government has pledged to a “four nation approach” to Christmas.

Wales health minister Vaughan Gething has said that discussions are ongoing with the other four nations about issues surrounding travel, and they were still looking at the evidence about what we might be able to do around contact.

Jeremy Miles, the Welsh Government’s Counsel General, has said: “We have always sought wherever possible to work on a four-nations basis throughout this pandemic. That isn’t always possible and isn’t always appropriate but that is our starting point for discussion

“In terms of what Christmas might look like, the First Minister wants the best available version of Christmas consistent with keeping people safe.

“Whatever scenario we face as we approach Christmas, we all need to look at how we spend our time in the weeks before.

“We need to see what the landscape looks like in the next few weeks.”

What are the concerns?

Sage member Professor John Edmunds said normal socialising activity around Christmas “all unfortunately carries a risk” and people should probably prepare for a “slightly disappointing Christmas”.

He told ITV’s Peston: “I think that it would be prudent not to go wild at Christmas quite honestly, so I think that we will have to moderate and have a slightly disappointing Christmas, unfortunately.”

Deputy chief scientific adviser Dame Angela McLean said it was important to go into the festive week of Christmas with “infections in the community as low as possible”.

Dr Hilary Jones has delivered an impassioned speech over why the country should forego this Christmas this year.

The Good Morning Britain health editor said: “Estimates, of course. It is based on the fact that if you have so many households coming together, the prevalance of the disease already would mean more (coronavirus) cases.

“You are going to transmit the virus to more households and more people. This would inevitably lead to more hospitalisations.

“Every day, they have calculated, would require five extra days of toughened restrictions and measures.

“So five days of Christmas festivities, means 25 days of lockdown. It all has to be balanced – think of the economy, and what that does to people’s mental health.

“They talk about balance of risk all the time and that is exactly what it is.

“Piers pointed out yesterday how other religious groups had had to forego their festivities. They have made that sacrifice. One has to question whether five days at Christmas, to have those parties, that roast turkey, really warrants shutting down the country.

“That is a question the government has to ask.”

Asked if people should worry more about the health and welfare of their parents and grandparents than gathering together for a movie over Christmas, Prof Andrew Hayward from UCL said: “Well exactly.

“We’re on the cusp of being able to protect those elderly people who we love through vaccination and it would be tragic to throw that opportunity away and waste the gains we’ve made during lockdown by trying to return to normality over the holidays.”

Prof Hayward also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “there is a cost” to putting families together.

“When policies are undulating between stay at home to save lives, eat out to help out, the tier system, second lockdown and proposals for an amnesty on social distancing, it’s a highly inconsistent message.

“Whereas in fact the things that people need to do to stay safe and to keep their loved ones safe are relatively simple.

“Avoid, as far as possible, indoor close contact with people outside of your household, avoid crowded places and protect the most vulnerable by not putting them at unnecessary risk.”

Cases in your area:

When will we know?

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said a decision on whether families can gather at Christmas must be made as close to the end of England’s national lockdown as possible.

He told BBC Breakfast on Thursday: “The best time to make those decisions about how we can get together for Christmas, how we can get through this festive period, is when we have seen the impact of this lockdown on the figures.

“The best time for me to give you better advice, for the Government to make that decision, is as close to the 2nd of December as possible.

“I know some people would wish to know earlier, but if we were to do it now, and the facts were changing on the ground, we’ll end up having to change it again.”

In Wales, Vaughan Gething said decisions were going to be announced closer to the end of the English lockdown, saying: “It does rely on the picture that we will see, and the developing evidence over the coming weeks. There won’t be a definitive statement in the next few days, or weeks. We have quite a long way to go before we get to the Christmas period.”

WalesOnline – Wales News