UK has ‘little to no scope’ to relax Covid rules for Christmas unless rates fall

SAGE said it could be possible to ease measures over Christmas – but only if the virus is at a low level (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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The UK has ‘little to no scope’ to relax social distancing rules for Christmas unless coronavirus rates fall to a low level, the government’s scientific advisors have warned.

SAGE predicted there will be little prospect for family get-togethers if the virus remains at a “high and controlled” level.

However, there will be “greater potential” for loosening the rules for a limited period if the virus gets to a “low and controlled” level.

And that low level might be achieved through a national lockdown – of the kind Boris Johnson put into place last week.

The projection will give a glimmer of hope to people wanting to hug relatives and grandparents for the first time in nine months.

But getting to a “low and controlled” level of virus may be a long way off.

SAGE drew up the possible scenarios in a paper on October 28 – just before the national lockdown was announced

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SAGE papers from November 4, published today, warned the epidemic “continues to grow” in England.

And while it was “slowing in some areas of the country”, overall virus rates in the North West in particular were “very high”.

Separate data today also suggested the virus was continuing to grow in some regions of England, despite the R rate falling. And more than 30,000 new confirmed cases were announced yesterday alone.

It comes as England prepares to return to a three-tier regional lockdown system after the current national lockdown ends on December 2.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly refused to say exactly what will happen for Christmas, amid fears there’ll be a mass breach of the rules.

More than 30,000 new confirmed cases were announced yesterday alone
(Image: WireImage)

SAGE drew up the possible scenarios in a paper on October 28 – just before the national lockdown was announced.

It divided possible trajectories for Covid-19 into “low and controlled”, “high and controlled”, “high and uncontrolled”, and “alternating.”

For the virus to stay “high and uncontrolled”, the nation would only need to carry on the trajectory it was on before lockdown was announced.

In this situation virus rates would be “high in some parts of the country and lower in others, but growth is rapid elsewhere”.

If this situation continued, or was returned to after lockdown ends, there would be “Little to no scope for loosening of social distancing rules over Christmas.”

For the virus to become “low and controlled”, SAGE said, there would need to be “rapid and decisive interventions” to push the R number below 1 and keep it there “for some time”.

This would mean imposing a national lockdown – just as Boris Johnson did a few days after SAGE’s prediction.

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If the virus gets to a “low and controlled” level, there would be “greater potential for loosening of social distancing rules for a limited period of time” over Christmas.

But SAGE warned a lockdown alone wouldn’t guarantee this will be possible.

The document warned a lockdown or regional restrictions would need to be in place for longer “if decision making is delayed”.

And it warned SAGE still didn’t know if modifying the lockdown to keep schools open – just as Boris Johnson has done – would be enough to get R below 1.

SAGE said once daily cases are low, “measures could eased somewhat”. But there would still need to be “substantial” restrictions over winter as a whole – for example, widespread Tier 2 lockdowns.

Since a month-long lockdown was imposed in England, SAGE experts have modelled it could cut the R number to between 0.6 and 1.1.

But they have said it is “highly unlikely” that R will fall as low as 0.6, partly because schools are staying open.