Millions of Britons have tonight been given a major boost that their number one Christmas wish – to be with their family members – could be granted this year.
Families across the UK could be given a small window of opportunity to enjoy at least some the festive season with their loved ones, according to reports.
Britons could get up to five days with family members over the festive period under new plans being considered by ministers, reports the Sun.
Ministers are also considering proposals which would allow family ‘bubbles’ of up to two or three households who will able to meet for Christmas, according to the Times.
It comes as Downing Street said yesterday that Boris Johnson wanted to ‘ensure that people can spend time with close family over Christmas’.
And though no decision have yet been made, with ministers reportedly wanting to review the direction of Covid death and infection figures first, Britons were today given another boost to their Christmas plans as case numbers continued to flatline.
Families across the UK could be given a small window of opportunity to enjoy Christmas with their loved ones, according to reports (library image)
It comes as Downing Street said yesterday that Boris Johnson wanted to ‘ensure that people can spend time with close family over Christmas’
The five day period has reportedly been chosen because Christmas Eve falls on a Thursday this year. It will mean many, but not all, workers will then have Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, followed by Sunday, December 27, and a planned Bank Holiday on Monday, December 28
In another sign lockdown measures are working, new Covid case numbers were recorded at 21,363 in the UK. The figure is new lab-confirmed cases recorded as of 9am yesterday
The Government also announced a further 213 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday – up 9.8 per cent from from last Monday’s figure of 194
Under the proposals, reported in the Sun, households would be allowed to mix for up to five days, starting on Christmas Eve.
The five day period has reportedly been chosen because Christmas Eve falls on a Thursday this year.
It will mean many, but not all, workers will then have Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, followed by Sunday, December 27, and a planned Bank Holiday on Monday, December 28.
Ministers reportedly want to make the rules standard across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – which have recently had varying levels of Covid restrictions.
But, according to the Times, the easing of restrictions could be for a slightly shorter period, of between two or three days.
The paper also reports that the number of households able to mix in ‘bubbles’ could be limited to two or three households.
Scientific advisers have reportedly urged the Government against easing rules too much, with some warning case numbers could double or quadruple over the Christmas period.
No decisions have yet been taken and talks between the four nations are set to take place at a later date.
A Downing Street spokesperson last night told the Sun: ‘We are looking at ways to ensure that people can spend time with close family over Christmas at the end of what has been an incredibly difficult year.’
The reports come amid a split by cabinet members over plans for a ‘strengthened’ Covid tier system that could see indoor socialising banned across much of the country for months.
Ministers are preparing for a bitter fight over the details of a beefed-up system of ‘regional’ restrictions which are due to be published next week.
A Whitehall source said Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove were attempting to ‘rein in everything’ and allow only a modest loosening of restrictions when the current lockdown rules expire on December 2.
However, other senior ministers, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Business Secretary Alok Sharma, Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden and Home Secretary Priti Patel, are said to be gearing up to push for a wider reopening to allow businesses to salvage part of their Christmas trade.
A Whitehall source said Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured left) and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove were attempting to ‘rein in everything’ and allow only a modest loosening of restrictions when the current lockdown rules expire on December 2. However, other senior ministers, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured right), are said to be gearing up to push for a wider reopening to allow businesses to salvage part of their Christmas trade.
The new restrictions are expected to last for months, with only a short break over Christmas to allow more contact with family and friends.
Downing Street yesterday insisted that Boris Johnson remains determined to end the current restrictions on December 2.
But no decisions have been taken about exactly what structure of tiered restrictions will replace it.
On Monday, Public Health England director Susan Hopkins, warned that the tier system would have to be ‘strengthened’ to avoid a resurgence in the virus when the lockdown ends.
She said Tier One – the only level that allowed for indoor socialising – had had ‘very little effect’.
Documents released last week from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, which reports to the Scientific Advisory Committee for Emergencies (Sage) said that although there was a ‘clear effect’ on infection rates from strict Tier Three interventions, there was ‘much less from Tiers One and Two’.
The SPI-M group believes infections will rise at the same rate as before if the same three-tier system is brought back in on December 2.
But many ministers fear the economy would face another heavy blow if huge numbers of businesses are forced to remain closed in the run up to Christmas.
Tory MPs are also gearing up for a fight over the issue, with one warning that up to 100 could rebel next week if the new restrictions are drawn too tightly.
A Whitehall source acknowledged that the Government would face ‘political difficulties’ if the hospitality sector is unable to reopen in the run-up to Christmas.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said yesterday that he hoped to see most hospitality firms allowed to reopen. But he acknowledged that restrictions were likely to be only ‘somewhat easier’ after the current lockdown ends.
In a round of broadcast interviews, Mr Jenrick said any extension of the lockdown would require a vote of Parliament.
‘It is our hope and expectation that that won’t be the case and that people in England will be able to move back into the tiered system,’ he said.
Sir John Bell, a member of the Government’s vaccines taskforce, said the Government would not be able to ‘take our foot off the brake completely’ when the lockdown ends.
But he said developments in mass testing could help ease restrictions. ‘I am optimistic that we won’t have to go into the Christmas period in a lockdown,’ he said.
Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to the original lockdown in March, said reopening pubs and restaurants in the run-up to Christmas would be likely to lead to rising infection levels.
He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: ‘The big question is can we reopen… pubs and restaurants in the run-up to Christmas and still avoid infection levels increasing?
‘I suspect we can’t, but the decision may be made to do so anyhow on the basis that any increase will be slow and may be able to be counteracted later.’
The British Medical Association last night called for the ‘rule of six’, which allowed mixing of up to six households, to be replaced with a ‘two households’ rule.