Keir Starmer has concluded that “doing nothing is not really viable” and “a responsible government is going to have to do something” amid rising concerns over the relaxation of Covid rules for five days at Christmas.
The government has planned to allow increased household mixing across all coronavirus tiers between December 23rd and 27th, allowing people to form a bubble of three households to mark the festive period.
But the Health Service Journal and British Medical Journal have today jointly warned against the move, which they say will “cost many lives”, and the Labour leader has now called for an emergency COBRA meeting to review the plans.
Commenting on the need for government action in a broadcast clip this afternoon, Starmer said: “We’re two weeks out of lockdown and unfortunately the numbers are going up quite sharply, both in Tier 2 areas and Tier 3 areas.
“It’s increasingly looking like the government’s losing control of the virus, and that’s a very serious situation to get ourselves in. And in those circumstances, the only responsible thing to do is to look again at the Christmas restrictions and see whether they need to be toughened up.
“Nobody wants to do that, everybody understands why families want to see each other, and it’s difficult for the government. I get that. But they really need to review this now to look what else can be done.
“Because the risk otherwise is that we don’t protect the NHS and protect the economy going into January and February.”
He added: “There are a number of options that could be taken to toughen these restrictions. At the moment what I’m saying to the government is, you review it, talk to the four nations, talk to the scientists, review it, look at the risks, toughen up, get the language and the messaging right.
“I recognise this is difficult. I’m also saying to government, if you go down that route, we will support you on that. I think it’s very important we’re all saying the same thing, communicating in the same way. But what I don’t think the government can do is sit back and ignore what is obviously a problem now.
“I think doing nothing is not really viable. I think a responsible government is going to have to do something. There are a number of things it could do to toughen them. We’ll look at what they say.
“I don’t want to make this party political because we know people want to see each other, families want to see each other. It might come as a pleasant surprise to families. So I’m saying to the government: review, toughen up, and we’ll support you on that.”
Asked about his own plans for Christmas, Starmer said: “We’re staying at home, not going anywhere, having a very quiet, small family Christmas. We would normally have had a bigger Christmas and seen a lot more people.”
The HSJ and BMJ have bluntly warned: “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’.”
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is understood be to be holding a call with the devolved nations – Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford and Arlene Foster – this afternoon to discuss the planned relaxation of rules.
The government may keep the current plans in place but ‘toughen up’ messaging. Alternatively, it could reduce the number of relaxation days, reduce the number of households that can mix, introduce travel restrictions or ‘delay Christmas’.
"The only responsible thing to do is look again at the Christmas restrictions."
— Sky News (@SkyNews) December 15, 2020