Wednesday, 3 Mar 2021

Christmas rules to remain unchanged as Jenrick urges UK for ‘caution’ amid Covid surge

Vaccine: Robert Jenrick addresses government’s ‘priority’

The Communities Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the coronavirus operations committee will examine “what more we know now about the new variant” and its prevalence across the country. “We know it’s very heavily concentrated in London and the East of England and the South East, but it’s not exclusively so, it’s also present more widely – that’s a source of concern,” he said.

But “tomorrow is Christmas Eve, we don’t have any intention of changing the guidelines with respect to Christmas”.

He went on: “We are not going to change people’s plans 24, 48 hours ahead of Christmas.

“However, the Prime Minister and others have been very clear that, even outside of Tier 4, there is a strong degree of personal judgment to be exercised here.

“It’s still up to people to come to a conclusion as to how many members of their family or other households they want to bring together on Christmas Day.

“The strong advice is to keep it small, to keep it short and therefore to be safe.”

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Reports suggested local leaders and health officials met on Tuesday night to discuss the possibility of Birmingham being moved into a Tier 4 lockdown, while areas in lower tiers could be moved up to Tier 3.

Genomic researchers have found that the new variant, which is said to be 70% more infectious than previous strains, has already spread around the UK, with cases identified in Wales and Scotland.

Health chiefs in Cumbria have said the new variant is in the county and could be behind sharp increases in new cases, while Lancashire’s director of public health said there is a “high likelihood” that the new variant is in the county.

The current tier levels in England are due to be reviewed on December 30 but that could be accelerated.

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Mr Jenrick told Sky News: “We don’t have a timetable for that. The Government’s Covid operations committee is meeting later today to review further evidence.

“We keep this under review, we are constantly hearing from our scientific advisers about what we should do.”

The new variant is “very concerning” and is “prevalent probably in most regions of the country”, he acknowledged.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to say his party will back any Government moves to tighten restrictions if that is what scientists recommend.

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Scientists have repeatedly warned that the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions on Christmas Day could lead to increased cases and, ultimately, deaths.

Although plans have been dramatically scaled back, Mr Jenrick said the Government will not hesitate if they need to go further.

“We’re asking people outside Tier 4 areas to exercise great care – only to come together with a small number of people and only for Christmas Day,” he told Sky.

“If we need to change that in light of the new variant, then we won’t hesitate to do so.”

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