Christmas still in doubt as scientists warn returning to tier system won't work

The month-long national lockdown may not be enough to save Christmas, scientists have warned. 

If the country returns to the tiered system again after December 2, the rate of infection would go back to the levels seen at the start of the month, according to newly released SAGE documents. 

They also say families will only be able to gather together at Christmas if the R rate stays below one for ‘some time’.

The papers were put together by the Government’s scientific advisors on November 4 – the day before the latest lockdown began. 

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Non-essential businesses have been shut since November 5 and people have been told to stay at home except for essential journeys. 

Boris Johnson has promised the country will come out of lockdown again at the start of December and resort back to the regional approach he introduced in October. 

But his advisors appear to be cautioning against this. The document said: ‘If England returns to the same application of the tiering system in place before November 5, then transmission will return to the same rate of increase as today.’

Other papers from late October suggested that in a scenario where prevalence of infections is ‘low and controlled’, and where NHS Test and Trace ‘can play a big role in containing outbreaks’, there is scope for a loosening of social distancing rules over Christmas for a ‘limited time’.

For this to happen, ‘rapid and decisive interventions’ must push R well below one and ‘maintain that for some time’.

However in other ‘high and controlled’ cases scenarios there would be ‘little to no scope for loosening of social distancing rules over Christmas’.

It comes as the latest Office for National Statistics figures showed the number of new infections has stabilised at around 50,000 every day. 

SAGE now believe the R rate may be as low as 1.0 and even lower in the North West – the region that has born the brunt of the second wave. 

A recent spike in the daily case figures may have been caused by people heading to the pub for a last blow out before lockdown, it was revealed yesterday. 

On Friday, the Government said a further 376 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19.

There have also been a further 27,301 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, down from 33,470 on Thursday.

The Government has yet to reveal what restrictions will look like post-lockdown but it’s broadly thought it will be in line with the previous approach where different areas saw different rules depending on the severity of the outbreak. 

A more strict tier four could be introduced to go further than the current tier three restrictions which include closing pubs and restaurants and banning household mixing everywhere except wide open spaces. 

Elsewhere, in Wales, leaders have said guidance will be issued ahead of the festive period to keep people safe.

Health minister Vaughan Gething told a Cardiff press conference: ‘We’ll be looking at whether we can do things about the numbers of people who meet indoors together because often – whether you celebrate Christmas as a religious event or not – it’s still a time of the year when people want to gather together and it’s often more difficult to do so outdoors than in.’

Scottish figures also warned of the potential need for ‘more dramatic action’ in some areas to curb the spread of infections.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney confirmed the Scottish Government is talking to local leaders in both the Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Lanarkshire health board areas about the prospect of moving them from level three to level four – the highest level of restrictions in Scotland’s five-tier system.

Such a move would close non-essential shops as well as bars, restaurants, gyms, hairdressers and visitor attractions.

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