Millions of families were plunged into Christmas confusion today as the Government told them to consider scrapping festive get-togethers with elderly and vulnerable relatives.
Despite many having bought tickets to travel and ordered giant turkeys, a Cabinet minister proposed putting off their plans for big gatherings, saying, “Easter can be the new Christmas.”
Robert Jenrick said that every family should now have 11th-hour “conversations round the breakfast table” and decide if it is really safe to expose grandparents to young people who might be carrying the virus.
Boris Johnson also urged people to “exercise extreme caution” while celebrating Christmas. It came as he told MPs that the four UK nations have agreed to continue “in principle” with the easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas.
The Government rejected calls to cancel the Christmas relaxation of the Covid laws, despite fresh warnings from scientists and doctors that infections are bound to increase.
It means “bubbles” of up to three households are permitted to sit down for a festive meal if they wish in a five-day period starting December 23.
Fresh advice puts the onus on families to decide what is safe for their loved ones. That includes considering if a Christmas with elderly relatives is sensible, as well as staying local if possible.
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said she would have preferred a U-turn “to avoid the preventable deaths that we’re going to have in January as a result of this”. As a fall-back, Christmas celebrations should be held in the “most modest way possible”.
Professor Graham Medley, chairman of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) which advises the Government, said people faced the individual risk of infecting loved ones with Covid and of contributing towards the possibility of the NHS being “overrun”.
He told BBC’s Radio 4’s Today Programme, “I’m not going to see my mother over Christmas. We decided that mutually but I may well see one of my children.”
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham told Sky News: “I’m hearing ministers now this morning using the phrase ‘Easter is the new Christmas’. They are really now at risk of getting very, very confused…this has to be cleared up today.”
Formal talks with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were resumed, amid speculation that travel between some countries or regions may be restricted. Although the Westminster government will not change the laws for England, a source said the four UK nations may end up with slightly different approaches.