Boris Johnson under pressure to scale back Christmas ‘bubbles’

Published: 15 December 2020

Post Desk : Boris Johnson came under pressure to scale back Christmas “bubbles” today as top scientists, medical experts and former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called for a review.

An exclusive Ipsos MORI poll for the Standard reveals that a clear majority of elderly people – the most at-risk age group – fear that the rules are “not strict enough”.

In a possible sign of the Government getting cold feet, Cabinet minister Stephen Barclay took to the airways to appeal to people to “do the minimum” of socialising, even within their bubbles.

Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, told the Evening Standard: “I think they will inevitably have to be kept under review given the new strain of the virus”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan urged ministers to look again, saying: “Inevitably when people are in their own households, they tend to be less vigilant. And my concern is that many people may have the virus and not realise it. They could pass the virus on to older relations”
America’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci told BBC’s Newsnight: “My advice would be something that I think is going to sadden people because everyone wants the family warmth and get-together that is so characteristic of the Christmas season. But my recommendation would be to curtail travelling as much as you possibly can”
The British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal united in a joint editorial calling on the Government to “reverse its rash decision to allow household mixing and instead extend the tiers over the five day Christmas period”. They added: “This joint editorial is only the second in the more than 100 year histories of The BMJ and the Health Service Journal. We are publishing it because we believe the government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives. If our political leaders fail to take swift and decisive action, they can no longer claim to be protecting the NHS”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that large scale community testing is to be rolled out to all 32 London boroughs over the next few weeks in an effort to curb the surge in the capital, which has been linked to a new mutation of coronavirus. He told the Standard: “Cases across London are growing rapidly and I know yesterday’s news [of Tier 3] will have come as a blow to many – particularly business. Over the coming weeks we will be rolling out community testing right across London and I urge people to come forward when it is made available”
Half the public think coronavirus rules over the Christmas period are not strict enough, the Ipsos MORI poll for the Standard reveals. But that rises to 56 per cent among the over-65s. Only 39 per cent of the public believes the Christmas rules are “about right”New data showed Covid-19 surges erupting across London with 17 boroughs seeing a weekly rise of more than 40 per cent. The second wave peak reached a new high, with a seven day rate of 242 new case per 100,000 in the week to December 9, with east London being hardest hit.
The Christmas bubble rules were agreed by the four nations on November 25. However, yesterday Wales indicated it might drop out of the scheme.

Under the rules, from 23 December to 27 December families can join up to two other households to celebrate in homes, and can even travel from one tier to another.

Mr Khan called told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We heard from Matt Hancock yesterday that it appears the Government is looking at this again. I would encourage them to do so if they are.”

Mr Barclay, the Treasury Chief Secretary, stressed that people should exercise maximum caution if older people are joining in.

He said the relaxations should not be “misinterpreted” or lead to families forgetting the usual rules of social distancing.

“It’s not that the restrictions are being lifted in their entirety – we’re not going from Tier 3 to some sort of tier zero,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“What we’re saying, in a limited sense, is that many families who have not been together all year, who will want to see each other, three households can come together for that Christmas period.

“It’s not that all restrictions are being lifted.”

“I won’t see my parents over Christmas,” he added. “But I will see my parents-in-law and those are the decisions many families will take.

“We’ve got to trust the British people to act responsibly and do the minimum that is possible for them in their family situation.

Southwark saw the biggest spike in confirmed cases in the week to December 9, of 71 per cent, followed by Enfield 69.1 per cent, Richmond 67.5 per cent, Lewisham 61.8 per cent, Greenwich 58.7 per cent, Havering 58.4 per cent, Bromley 52.4 per cent, and Hammersmith and Fulham 49.5 per cent.

A new variant of the virus, which is believed to spread faster, is thought to be partly behind the rise in cases.

However, scientists say the increasing spread of the disease is mainly down to less social distancing.