Labour’s Mark Drakeford has announced that Wales will go into a fresh lockdown from December 28th, as all four nations have toughened up the messaging around being cautious as rules are relaxed during the festive period.
In Wales, non-essential shops will close after the end of trading on Christmas, hospitality will close at 6pm on Christmas Day, and the country will enter a stay-at-home lockdown from the start of the following week.
“This pandemic is putting our NHS under intense and sustained strain. There are more than 2,100 people with coronavirus symptoms in our hospitals – equivalent to five general hospitals fully occupied by people with coronavirus,” Drakeford said.
As well as a third lockdown after Christmas, the First Minister of Wales announced new guidance – though not new legislation – for next week, when people will be legally allowed to form bubbles of three households for five days.
Urging caution despite the relaxed rules, Drakeford said: “The position from the Welsh government is that only two households should come together to form an exclusive Christmas bubble during the five-day period.”
The First Minister added: “A smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas. The fewer people we mix with in our homes, the less chance we have of catching or spreading the virus.”
It is understood that the leaders of the four UK nations held a second conference call on Covid rules today, and it was agreed that there would be no changes to the law covering the Christmas period but tougher messaging.
Update, 4.20pm: The BBC has now reported that in Wales the rules will change – not just the guidance – to mean that only two households can meet indoors over the five Christmas days, rather than three households.
Nicola Sturgeon has also changed the guidance in Scotland, advising that meetings indoors should be limited, people should meet other households for only one day in the Christmas period and should avoid staying overnight in someone else’s home.
At Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, UK Labour leader Keir Starmer described the Prime Minister’s approach to Christmas as the government’s “next big mistake” amid concerns over rising infection rates.
UK Labour is not calling directly for a change in the law, but has demanded a review. Shadow health minister Liz Kendall told the BBC: “We would definitely like the government to convene COBRA and look at the evidence again.”
Between December 23rd and 27th, the UK government and devolved administrations have decided that people can form ‘Christmas bubbles’ of three households and can travel between tiers and UK nations for this purpose.