U.K. Should Ban Christmas Household Mixing, Journals Say

Two leading U.K. medical journals joined forces to demand Boris Johnson scrap his plan to let households mix over Christmas, in a plea to protect the National Health Service from being overwhelmed.

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

The issue is a fast becoming a major political headache for Johnson, who has said repeatedly he wants to give families some normality over Christmas. But his own scientific advisers warn that allowing up to three households to mix indoors will make the holiday a “spreading” event, and ministers have come under pressure in recent days to rethink the strategy, especially with London facing a surge in infections and the discovery of a new virus strain.

“The government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives,” the journals said in only their second joint editorial in more than 100 years. “If our political leaders fail to take swift and decisive action, they can no longer claim to be ‘protecting the NHS.’”

So far, Johnson’s ministers have stood firm on the Christmas plan, though they have expressed more caution in recent days. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday people should be “careful” and consider reducing social contacts if they plan to meet older relatives over Christmas.

Risks

“The encouragement is for families to do the minimum, not the maximum of what the rules allow,” Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay told BBC radio on Tuesday. “There is a risk when households come together, as there is with any social contact.”

The British government said Nov. 24 that families in England, Wales and Scotland would be able to meet in a “Christmas bubble” of three households between Dec. 23-27, with those in Northern Ireland allowed a day on either side to accommodate longer traveling time.

Papers released by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies just days after the announcement showed the government’s scientific advisers are wary of the impact of relaxing the rules on transmission rates.

One document suggested that five days of stringent measures would be needed to cancel out the effect of each day of more relaxed rules. Another warned the holiday period could become a “superspreader” event.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said Monday the plan to relax rules over Christmas will put “upward pressure” on coronavirus cases. “The key thing is that people have just got to be sensible,” he said.

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