World, Europe

UK: Christmas household gatherings to go ahead

Government does not cancel relaxed rules over festive period despite warnings over rising infection rates

Ahmet Gurhan Kartal   | 16.12.2020
UK: Christmas household gatherings to go ahead Shoppers walk past social distancing signs on Oxford Street, ahead of London being moved into ‘Tier 3’ of the pandemic-control system on Wednesday, on December 15, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. In 'Tier 3' of England's pandemic-control measures, restaurants and pubs will be limited to takeaway and delivery, although shops are allowed to remain open. ( Kate Green - Anadolu Agency )

LONDON

Three UK households will be able to mix for five days over the Christmas period, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday, warning Britons to have as small gathering as possible and take personal responsibility.

Speaking at a press conference at Downing Street alongside the government's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, Johnson said there are worrying signs of case numbers rising, urging people to exercise "extreme caution" during the festive season.

"Of course, it's always going to be safest to minimize the number of people you meet and that means that, if you're visiting others over Christmas, we're asking you in the five days beforehand, as early as this Friday, to reduce the number of people you're in contact with to the lowest possible, because obviously this virus spreads through human contact," Johnson said.

His remarks came a day after the government was urged to review its relaxation measures during the Christmas period by the country's medical journals.

In a joint editorial on Tuesday, the British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal warned that the government should reverse its decision to permit household visits during the festive season.

"The new year is likely to see NHS [National Health Service] trusts facing a stark choice: be overwhelmed or stop most elective and non-urgent work," the editorial warned.

"Rather than lifting restrictions over Christmas as currently planned, the UK should follow the more cautious examples of Germany, Italy and the Netherlands," it said.

The British prime minister also said vaccinations would allow measures to be eased but "we are by no means there yet," adding that the vaccines' impact would be apparent by Easter.

Whitty said population immunity would occur if the vaccine is able to reduce transmission, but it is not known if the vaccine will stop the spread of coronavirus.

He said the Pfizer vaccine and the next two coming vaccines, the Oxford and Moderna jabs, will stop people from getting ill.

Underlining that it would not be realistic to expect the coronavirus to be completely eradicated in the community, he said it would continue to be present, at low levels, "probably for the foreseeable future," also urging people to keep Christmas visits short, local and small.

Thousands of people are expected to travel across the country to visit family and friends on Dec. 23-27.

The UK has a three-tier system in place on local measures against the virus outbreak.

The death toll from novel coronavirus in the country stands at 64,908 -- the highest in Europe.

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