The UK may be “heading towards disaster” over Christmas, scientists have warned as coronavirus cases surge in parts of the country following the end of the second national lockdown.
Independent Sage said the relaxation of restrictions over a five-day festive period created a “very real danger” of a third wave of Covid-19, and one public health expert described the government’s decision as a “mistake”.
It came as the reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission across the UK crept up toward 1, with London and the southeast of England suffering the highest rate of new infections.
Meanwhile rapid testing will be rolled out to local authorities in the highest tier of restrictions from Monday, the government has announced.
Care home visits ‘delayed by lack of tests’
Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group and boss of four care homes in North Yorkshire, said face-to-face indoors visits were being delayed.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We haven’t had all the tests delivered yet. We want to get visiting up and running as soon as possible but time is running out because Christmas is a short time away. It’s quite a laborious exercise, we’ve got to be trained, each test takes 45 minutes to an hour to do.
“I fear some people will be disappointed, even if we started today and I did 20 visits a day I still wouldn’t get through to everyone by Christmas. We will somehow reunite people as much as we can.”
Peter Stubley12 December 2020 09:44
Care home residents face Christmas without family visits
Many care home residents may not be reunited with their loved ones before Christmas, a charity fears.
Some homes are worried about insurance issues and concerned about the accuracy of rapid-result tests, Age UK said.
The government has pledged that all residents in all tiers would have the opportunity to receive visits before Christmas, unless it is unsafe because of an outbreak.
With two weeks to go, Age UK said this will not be a reality “unless something changes fast”.
Caroline Abrahams, director of the Age UK charity, told BBC Breakfast: “Not all care homes are as keen on getting visiting going.
“Some of the big chains are more risk-averse. Probably partly because they have got their insurance breathing down their necks.
“We have heard some people say ‘why don’t we wait until the vaccine comes?’ That would mean another really lengthy delay for families and older people.”
More than a million rapid-result lateral flow tests are being rolled out to England’s 385 biggest care homes, but no detail has yet emerged on when smaller homes will receive them.
Peter Stubley12 December 2020 09:39
Wales faces ‘rising tide’ of cases
Vaughan Gething, health minister for Wales, has warned his country faces an “incredibly serious situation”.
He said there had been a “rising tide of infections” since the relaxation of rules on 9 November and expected a further surge after Christmas and New Year.
He told BBC Breakfast: “This is hugely serious. It’s for all of us to play our part.
“All those people doing the right thing should keep on doing that, everyone needs to think again about how many people they are seeing, what contact they are having with them, and think about how you can reduce your contact to protect yourself and each other.”
Vaughan Gething said the Welsh Government could theoretically break the agreement between Westminster and devolved administrations to relax social distancing rules for five days over the festive period, but added it would cause a loss of trust.
He said: “If we were to upset those rules we would lose lots of trust from a large number of people who have stuck with us and we would also see I’m afraid a range of people prepared to ignore the rules.
“Even with the agreement in place we’re likely to see a number of people go beyond that anyway.
“That’s why we are anticipating an increase after Christmas and why I expect there will be an increase after New Year’s Eve as well.”
Peter Stubley12 December 2020 09:26
Rapid testing rolled out to Tier 3 areas from Monday
Rapid community testing will be rolled out Tier 3 areas in a bid to cut Covid-19 transmission rates this winter, the government has announced.
An initial wave of some 67 local authorities have received approval for testing schemes to help put them on a path towards relaxing local measures.
More than 1.6 million rapid turnaround lateral flow tests are to be delivered for use this month, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the enhanced testing programmes follow a successful pilot in Liverpool and will be a “vital additional tool” in finding asymptomatic cases.
Peter Stubley12 December 2020 09:18
Relaxing restrictions for Christmas is a ‘mistake’
Relaxing Covid restrictions for five days over the Christmas period is a “mistake” that will have “consequences”, according to a professor of public health.
Linda Bauld, of the University of Edinburgh, said: “I think people have to think very carefully whether they can see loved ones outside, or do it in a very modest way.
“I’m also concerned about the travel, people going from high to low-prevalence areas.”
She told BBC Breakfast: “I think it’s going to have consequences. I completely understand why governments are doing that. Behaviourally people are fed up.
“If you’re meeting people indoors from other households, there’s poor ventilation, maybe older family members are in those bubbles, unfortunately because the virus hasn’t been eliminated… I think that means the Christmas period is a risk.
“From a public health perspective, I have to be perfectly honest, I think this is a mistake.”
Here’s a reminder of the rules between 23 and 27 December:
Peter Stubley12 December 2020 09:13
UK ‘heading towards disaster’ over Christmas
“Right now we are heading towards disaster,” said Independent Sage expert Professor Stephen Reicher of the University of St Andrews.
“Given high levels of infection across the country and the increasing levels in some areas (such as London) it is inevitable that if we all do choose to meet up over Christmas then we will pay the price in the New Year.”
He added: “We need an urgent rethink about the Christmas break. Government must clarify the risks involved in indoor mixing and stress the fact that households can get together doesn’t mean that they should.
“They should provide the information and support to help people make the decisions that best keep themselves, their families and their communities safe. And for many of us, the right decision will be to show our love by waiting until we can meet and hug and celebrate without danger.”
Peter Stubley12 December 2020 09:09
Public urged to ‘rethink’ Christmas plans
The public should “rethink Christmas” in light of surging infection rates in parts of Britain and a possible third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, experts on the Independent Sage group have warned.
The panel, led by Sir David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, said that just because ministers had told people they could meet up did not mean they should nor that it was necessarily safe to do so.
Coronavirus restrictions are to be eased across the UK for five days around Christmas.
Peter Stubley12 December 2020 09:04
R rate creeps back towards 1
The government’s scientific advisers said they were ‘not confident’ the reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission across the UK is below 1 in all English regions, particularly in London and parts of the southeast.
When the figure is above 1, an outbreak can grow exponentially.
Peter Stubley12 December 2020 09:02
Good morning and welcome to the Independent’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK and worldwide.
Peter Stubley12 December 2020 08:57