The relaxation of restrictions over Christmas could trigger a “tsunami” of coronavirus cases, according to a nursing chief, as frustration continues over England’s tier system.
More than two-thirds of England will be living under Tier 3 restrictions from Saturday, only for restrictions on household mixing to be relaxed from next Wednesday for the festive period.
With a week to go until Christmas Day, nurses are calling on the government to give “fresh and more detailed” advice to the public in an effort to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases in the new year.
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Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “After a difficult year, it is everybody’s instinct to want to be together and see loved ones – especially those who live far apart or feel isolated.
“But what is at stake is coming into sharp focus.
“Travelling and family visits associated with this time of year will undoubtedly lead to more cases, more pressure on NHS and care services, and more deaths. By turning the second and third waves into an unrelenting tsunami, we would begin 2021 in the worst possible way.”
Dame Donna added that nurses would not be able to enjoy the Christmas period “knowing what awaits them in January”, and urged ministers to give more information on the risks of mixing at Christmas, saying: “This virus isn’t taking Christmas off and nor should we.”
The mixing of households will also likely lead to tighter measures in the new year, according to a member of the government’s scientific advisory panel.
SAGE’s Professor John Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told Sky News: “At the moment it doesn’t look like the tier system is holding the epidemic wave back, unfortunately.
“So I think we are going to have to look at these measures and perhaps tighten them up, we really will. It’s a horrible thing to have to say but we are in quite a difficult position.”
But he suggested that, while the relaxation of restrictions at Christmas is “probably not good for the epidemic”, it is “probably good for people’s wellbeing in other ways”.
He said he will not mix with elderly relatives over the festive season, choosing to wait until they have been vaccinated.
The warnings come amid growing frustration over the tier system, which saw a reshuffle on Thursday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock moved the following areas into Tier 3 – the highest level of restrictions, which means entertainment venues and hospitality must close, other than for takeaway services:
- Central Bedfordshire
- Milton Keynes
- Bracknell Forest
- Windsor and Maidenhead
- West Berkshire
- The rest of Hertfordshire not already in Tier 3 (Dacorum, East Hertfordshire, North Hertfordshire, St Albans, Stevenage and Welwyn Hatfield)
- Surrey (except Waverley)
- Hastings and Rother
Bristol and North Somerset will move down into Tier 2, while Herefordshire drop into Tier 1.
All changes come into force from Saturday.
The announcement that more areas will be under the strictest restrictions led to criticism from the Conservative backbenches.
Steve Baker, the deputy chair for the lockdown-sceptic group of MPs the Covid Recovery Group, called for clarity on how the decisions are made to move areas between tiers.
He said: “After a full and damaging national lockdown, millions more people and businesses across the country are heading into tougher restrictions.
“The government must urgently clarify what the criteria are for moving areas between, and especially down, the tiers.”
Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland said it was “ridiculous that we are being dragged into Tier 3”, while Altrincham and Sale West MP Sir Graham Brady said the news that Greater Manchester will stay in the highest tier will be “greeted with dismay”.
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A new national lockdown was not ruled out by the government on Friday, after leaders in Wales and Northern Ireland announced their nations would be subject to strict restrictions after Christmas
Wales will go back into a national lockdown from 28 December, while Northern Ireland faces such measures from Boxing Day.
Speaking to Sky News earlier, schools minister Nick Gibb said: “Nothing is ruled out of course as we tackle this pandemic.”
But he insisted that the current tier system in England is “very effective” at finding where local spikes are and focusing restrictions on those areas.
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