England Keeps Looser Holiday Covid Rules Even as Cases Surge

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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will go ahead with plans to ease coronavirus restrictions over Christmas despite mounting pressure to stop people mixing indoors over the holiday.

As many as three households will still be able to gather together for five days between Dec. 23 and 27 in England, a person familiar with the matter said.

But the government is expected to set out stronger guidance on how to keep elderly relatives safe. This could include asking people to self-isolate before joining with other households, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove will meet with his counterparts from the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Wednesday to try to agree a common approach across the U.K., after talks failed to reach a united position on Tuesday.

Johnson has faced growing demands to rethink his approach over Christmas after a surge in Covid-19 infections in recent days, particularly in London and southeast England. The U.K. capital was placed in the highest tier of restrictions on Wednesday, with pubs and restaurants forced to close.

‘Grave Risk’

In a rare joint editorial Tuesday, the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal said the government’s relaxation of social distancing rules over the holiday period will increase infections and risk putting further strain on hospitals.

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, called on ministers to hold an emergency review of the plans. He told Johnson in a letter the government has “lost control of infections,” putting the economy and National Health Service at “grave risk” in the new year.

“We all need to use our own personal judgment thinking about our own families whether we have particularly elderly or clinically vulnerable relatives who might be round the Christmas table, and also looking at the fact that the rates of the virus are rising in many parts of the country,” Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News.

“Thinking of some of the examples we can see internationally like Thanksgiving, for example, where lots of people coming together did have consequences after the event,” he said.

The British Medical Association, the doctors’ union, said allowing people to mix at Christmas was a “recipe for catastrophe.”

Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA’s chair of council, said: “We agree that the impact on the NHS of the almost inevitable third wave of the infection in the new year will be disastrous.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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