Matt Hancock refuses to say if Christmas relaxations could be scrapped

The Health Secretary has avoided a question on whether there were any circumstances in which the Christmas relaxation of Covid rules would be re-assessed.

Matt Hancock refused to say if temporary relaxations of rules between December 23 and 27 would be scrapped after data showed coronavirus cases were rising quickly.

‘Our messages around Christmas are really clear. We understand why people want to see their loved ones, especially at this time of year, especially after this year,’ he said during a press conference at Downing Street.

‘But it must be done in a way that is careful and responsible, and I think people understand that too.

‘If you are planning to meet up with loved ones at Christmas, then being careful now, two weeks ahead, making sure you minimise the chance of both catching the disease and passing it on is the right thing to do – actually, that’s the right thing to do all the time.’

Travel restrictions will be lifted across the UK for five days between December 23 and 27 to enable people from different households to gather over the holiday.

Up to three households will be able to come together to form a ‘Christmas bubble’ during that period.

Members of a bubble can meet at home, in places of worship and in outdoor public places.

During the briefing, Hancock announced London and parts of Hertfordshire and Essex will be plunged into the highest level of coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday.

Tier 3 restrictions on the capital and the South East could have a catastrophic impact on the economy, with pubs and restaurants forced to close except for takeaway services over the busy festive period.

A formal review of England’s tiers was due to take place on Wednesday, but the Health Secretary has confirmed London’s fate early following a surge in cases in all 32 boroughs.

Professor Chris Whitty, commenting on whether London should have been put into Tier 3 earlier, added: ‘Go too late and too light, and the virus takes off.

‘Go too early and you damage large numbers of social and economic activities without huge benefits.

‘The idea of perfection, when you’re choosing between two bad situations, I think should be avoided – there isn’t a perfect time.’

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