BRITS must be “realistic” and not expect a normal Christmas this year in its “fullest sense”, the Justice Secretary warned last night.
Robert Buckland braced the nation for a grim winter and a miserable holiday period as he said that extended family gatherings may not be possible due to the climbing Covid numbers.
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It came as gloomy SAGE reports from Government scientists warned of a three-month peak, and 85,000 more people dying from the second wave.
Worst case scenario plans show 100,000 infections a day could be reached by Valentine’s Day, with a slowly rising deaths peaking at 800 a day by next March.
The doomsday plans have dashed Boris Johnson’s plans to give the nation a reprieve for Christmas – and mean that strict rules are likely to be in place across the nation.
Already in Tier 2 and 3 people cannot mix indoors, ending hopes for family Christmas dinners.
Only people living in Tier 1 are allowed to visit others inside their homes, and only in groups of up to six.
Last night Justice Secretary Mr Buckland prepared the nation to be disappointed this Christmas as part of plans to fight the virus.
He told ITV’s Peston: “We’ve got to be realistic that if we seeing these trends continuing right through to December then Christmas in perhaps its fullest sense won’t be achievable for any of us this year.
“And perhaps coming to terms with that now is probably the right approach that we need to take.
“It doesn’t mean we can’t have Christmas but perhaps those extended gatherings… drawing people from different parts of the country… I have family in Wales, for example, that may not well be possible given the information that is emerging.”
He stressed that the grim picture was set to remain for the months ahead, adding: “I do think we’re in this for the long haul.
“All of us have a growing realisation that this is with us for the winter season and that it will take us right through to when the clocks go forward in March.”
He added that a local approach was far better than a national circuit breaker but admitted the Government “could” do it if things got worse.
“Those extra local measures that can be taken are absolutely the right approach to take,” he said.
“It is a more calibrated approach than opting for a circuit breaker that delays the issue and doesn’t really deal with it.”
However, he did not rule a national lockdown out, adding: “Using that break, pulling the handbrake, is something the government could do.”
Yesterday ministers admitted that dinners in lockdown areas could be broken up even if they have fewer than six people present – because people aren’t allowed to mix between households.
Cabinet Minister George Eustice said that even if people were in a group of six – which is the national rule – then they may not be able to meet with other households if they are under extra restrictions in Tier 2 and Tier 3.
At the moment people in the higher tiers – including Greater Manchester, London, parts of Birmingham, South Yorkshire and Liverpool – aren’t allowed to mix between households indoors.
“All of us have a growing realisation that this is with us for the winter season and that it will take us right through to when the clocks go forward in March.
And the Government will act to stop people from breaking the rules if they have to, the Environment Minister said today.
The PM has yet to say whether the rules will be lifted for the holiday period as he hopes.
The minister said it is “too early to say” how lockdowns could affect festivities, but told LBC: “Obviously if we do need to have restrictions in place, and prevent families from coming together in large gatherings, if that’s necessary to control the virus that’s what we’ll have to do.”
Asked on Times Radio if families from different tiers would be able to spend Christmas together, he added this is “not provided for currently”.
And he refused to rule out more action later on too – saying “we think we have got the right approach for now.”
But behavioural scientists warned people may break the rules anyway.
Professor Susan Michie, a Sage adviser told the BBC: “It seems to me that the social contract with the government over following the rules is likely to break down over Christmas.
“This would be very detrimental to getting out of the pandemic.
“So I think it is worth the government considering a very different approach to Christmas, which is not based on rules – a rule of six that doesn’t fit in to people’s social and family networks.”