Family mixing at Christmas to spark inevitable January lockdown, expert warns

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The public will need to make “every effort” to keep coronavirus cases low in December in order to gather at Christmas, a Public Health England director has said. Dr Susan Hopkins, a senior medical adviser to the Government’s COVID -19 response, suggested tougher restrictions could be needed either side of Christmas if curbs are to be eased over the festive period. At a Downing Street data briefing on coronavirus, Dr Hopkins said: “Some of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advice previously said that for every day we release, we’ll need two days tighter restrictions.

“Coming into Christmas, we need to be very careful about the number of contacts that we have to reduce transmission before Christmas and get our cases as low as possible.

“Hopefully the Government will make the decision that will allow us to have some mixing but we will wait and see.

“Once we have got past the Christmas period if there has been a release and some socialisation then we will all have to be very responsible and reduce those contacts again.”

It comes as ministers work out what new tiers should replace the previous system once England emerges from the current lockdown on December 2.

Scientists including Dr Hopkins have said the previous Tier 1 had very little effect on reducing coronavirus cases, with the highest impact found from enhanced restrictions in Tier 3 areas.

Deputy chief scientific adviser Dame Angela McLean told Wednesday’s briefing SAGE had been examining a potential relaxation of measures over Christmas.

She said: “We did send some advice in over the weekend, but we genuinely don’t know what decisions have been made.”

Asked whether household mixing could be allowed if there were other trade-offs, Dame Angela said: “What’s really important is we go into a festive week, when we want to mix with our friends and our family, with the number of infections in the community as low as possible.”

She said the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in the community had risen steeply in September and October but had now slowed down.

Some areas with high levels of infection had already started to see a drop before the lockdown was brought in on November 5, she added.

She said: “What you see is, even before national restrictions were brought in, in the parts of the country where the number of infections was already very high the progress of the epidemic had already flattened off – that’s the North West and Yorkshire and Humber.

“Those also happen to include the parts of the country that were under Tier 3 restrictions, so that’s good news that some parts of the country have already flattened off.”

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The latest reproduction rate – the R value – of the virus is still above one, according to most recent estimates, meaning the disease is still spreading.

Dame Angela said it would not be a problem for easing England’s lockdown if the R rate remained above one next week, due to the lag in calculating the value.

She told the Downing Street briefing: “The way we estimate R is very dominated by lagging indicators – people who are in hospital or people who have died.

“People who are going in to hospital now are people who got infected weeks ago.”

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