Boris Johnson has urged people to follow stricter coronavirus guidance over Christmas but rejected calls to change the law ahead of rules being eased – and the four nations in the UK has come to an end this afternoon.
In his latest coronavirus briefing, the Prime Minister confirmed that plans to allow up to three households to mix between December 23rd and 27th in England will go ahead as he does not want to “ban Christmas”.
But the Welsh Labour government led by First Minister Mark Drakeford has now announced that it will be changing the legal regulations to specifically limit Christmas bubbles to two households rather than three.
Boris Johnson told the public: “We’re collectively, across the UK, governments at every level, asking you to think hard and in detail about the days ahead and whether you can do more to protect yourself and others.”
“We’re keeping the laws the same but we all want to send the same message,” he added inaccurately, as Wales will be changing the law. “A smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas.
“When we say that three households can meet on three days, I want to stress that these are maximums, not targets to aim for. And of course it’s always going to be safest to minimise the number of people you meet.”
The Prime Minister asked viewers to minimise the number of people they meet in the days leading up to the Christmas period and urged them not to travel from high-prevalence Covid areas to those with fewer cases.
He also suggested that people “might want to delay seeing” elderly relatives until they have received a vaccine, to “think carefully about avoiding crowds in the Boxing Day sales” and said nobody should gather in large groups for the New Year.
Johnson has claimed that a four-nation approach has been taken in determining the Christmas rules. But the decision in Wales to diverge from England via a change in law, not only a change in guidance, has seen this scrapped.
In Scotland, the limit on no more than eight people from three households meeting indoors will remain in place. Nicola Sturgeon warned today that the safest way to spend Christmas was “unequivocally” within your own household only.
The fresh divergence follows the announcement from Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford earlier today that the devolved nation will go into a fresh lockdown from December 28th, immediately after the festive period.
Johnson’s press conference followed Prime Minister’s Questions, during which Keir Starmer described the arrangements to allow households to mix indoors for five days as “the next big mistake” in the government’s approach to the pandemic.
The Labour leader used the session in parliament today to highlight the increasing infection rates in Tier 2 and 3 areas, and echoed concerns voiced by medical professionals in recent days. But he stopped short of calling directly for a change in law.
Starmer wrote to the Prime Minister on Tuesday demanding an urgent review of the rules relaxation, arguing that the government had “lost control of infections, putting our economy and our NHS at grave risk in the New Year”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament on Tuesday that Covid cases are doubling every seven days in some areas. The Health Service Journal and British Medical Journal have warned that the Christmas bubble plan will “cost many lives”.