People should welcome in the new year in their own home and avoid meeting up with family and friends, scientists and police have said, as coronavirus cases in the UK soar and hospitals report growing pressure.
On Tuesday, cases in the UK reached a record high of 53,135, up from 41,385 the day before, while the number of patients in hospital with Covid in England is higher than recorded during the peak of the first wave of the virus.
Prof Peter Openshaw of Imperial College London, and one of the members of the UK’s Sage scientific advisory sub-group Nervtag, said the situation was very worrying.
“The new variants of Covid in the UK and in [South] Africa show that the virus is on the move. We have to get rates of infection down, keep them there and vaccinate as many people as possible,” he said. “Every transmission is another chance for the virus to mutate: them more virus there is around, the more it will evolve.”
He added that the impact of Christmas mixing was expected to become apparent in case numbers and the death toll in the coming weeks.
Prof Kamlesh Khunti, of the University of Leicester, who sits on Sage and is also a member of the Independent Sage group of experts, said the virus was rampant and the situation severe.
“The number of admissions is similar to [where] we were in April, and that is without the infections we are going to get because of the Christmas Day mixing,” he said, adding that admissions from other illnesses, typical over the winter months, would add further to the pressure on hospitals.
Khunti added that no one should be complacent, noting Covid had also affected young people, and urged people to forgo meeting up in person to welcome in 2021.
“Please do not go out and celebrate,” he said. “Some people have managed really well having celebrations virtually. There is a way to do this,” he added, noting that technology meant people could chat, drink and socialise together safely.
“We have got now the vaccine, we shouldn’t really mess this up now,” he said.
Police have said that most people were obeying the restrictions in their areas, but across the country they had discovered a number of raves, large-scale parties and businesses including hairdressers trying to stay open.
Police say they will will concentrate on the biggest breaches of the Covid rules on New Year’s Eve, such as ticketed events and unlicensed music events including raves, with sources adding officers will not be going “house to house” looking for breaches. Officers will try to encourage people to comply before issuing fines.
Some people have been inventive in fighting for their right to party during the continuing national emergency. Greenwich council in London says its officials and police caught more than 30 people who hired out a property for an unlawful family party. The council said the organiser could face a fine of up to £10,000.
Martin Hewitt, the chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said that while many people may want to celebrate after a difficult year, it was necessary to stick to the restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“Restrictions on social gatherings and certain businesses remain in place across all tiers. Large gatherings and parties should not be happening. We ask anyone thinking of attending or organising one not to do so,” he said.
“As throughout the pandemic, we are confident that the majority of people will respect the rules and stick to appropriately sized gatherings in line with the regulations. Those who blatantly ignore the regulations should expect to receive a fixed penalty notice and we’ll target our resources towards those who commit the most serious breaches.”