COVID-19: Still too early to know if households can mix over Christmas, minister says

A government minister has told Sky News it is too early to plan for Christmas, amid reports households could be allowed to mix for a number days over the festive period.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma refused to be drawn on COVID-19 rules for the looming festive season when asked about it by Kay Burley on Wednesday.

He said: “Christmas is of course going to happen come what may. I would love to have members of my family round, but we just have to wait and see where we’re at.”

A Downing Street source told Sky News that “no decisions have been made”.

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His comments come after The Sun reported that ministers are considering letting families choose a small number of households to socialise indoors with exclusively for five days, starting on Christmas Eve.

But it would mean no household mixing when national lockdown ends in England on 2 December, with all parts of the country under at least Tier 2 restrictions, according to The Daily Telegraph.

Earlier this week, government adviser Dr Susan Hopkins suggested England may have to toughen its tier system when national restrictions come to an end.

The epidemiologist and interim chief medical officer of Test and Trace said that Tier 1 rules “had very little effect” in keeping coronavirus cases down.

The key difference between Tier 1 and the higher tiers was that household mixing was allowed indoors, as long as in groups of six people or less.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly stated his intention for England to return to its previous localised tier system once the national lockdown ends, but the measures will likely differ somewhat from before.

While Downing Street will decide on an end-of-lockdown package for England at the end of this month, what happens over the festive period for all four UK nations is still under consideration.

People in Wales have been strongly advised not to mix with people they don’t live with indoors since its “circuit break” lockdown came to an end, and the same will be for when Northern Ireland’s finishes later this week.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday that 11 local authority areas will be put under the country’s toughest Level 4 measures from Friday until 11 December.

The “short and sharp” restrictions are “specifically intended to have an impact in advance of Christmas and the most challenging winter period”, she said.

Today, her deputy John Swinney told Kay Burley the current rules will “enable us all to be able to proceed to enjoy and appreciate the connections we all want to have with family around Christmas time”.

Reports that the first round of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines could be rolled out by mid-December had sparked hopes of a more “normal” Christmas, but the festive period remains uncertain.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News on Tuesday that parliament will vote on what system is imposed in England beyond 2 December.

He said it is his “hope and expectation” that England will “move back into the tiered system”, but he did not reveal any plans for Christmas.

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