The scientist whose modelling led to the first UK lockdown has said the decision over whether to see elderly relatives over Christmas comes down to “individual judgment”, but that the relaxed measures during the five-day window will inevitably increase coronavirus transmission.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Prof Neil Ferguson said that while indoor mixing would “increase transmission compared with everyone staying at home, not mixing at all”, the decision to relax rules was part of striking a balance around compliance.
Referring to the hypothetical option of a Christmas break during which no household mixing was allowed, the expert said: “What proportion of the population would actually go along with it?
“I think you have to bring the population with you. I think the measures at Christmas … do pose some risks and I think individual judgment is important in deciding whether to see elderly relatives.”
Overall, he said, the bubble system should limit the extent of transmission if people adhered to the rules.
The scientist’s message echoes Boris Johnson’s statement to the public earlier this week, when the prime minister told families they must make a “personal judgment” about the risks to vulnerable loved ones when meeting over Christmas.
Ferguson has previously described the decision to allow an easing of restrictions at Christmas as a “political judgment”, saying that “there will be consequences … some people will die because of getting infected on that day”.
The government’s scientific advisers said the relaxing of measures between 23 and 27 December would increase infections “potentially by a large amount”, and that the prevalence of the virus could easily double in just a few days.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies has suggested that people mitigate the risks of transmission by celebrating in a different way this year.
While the rules will allow three households to mix indoors without social distancing for five days, Sage’s guidance for limiting the chance of infection proposes variations within the restrictions that will make for a safer celebration.
Tips include celebrating outdoors, as the aerosol transmission risk is very low outside, and forgoing an in-person Christmas altogether, with a virtual celebration being the obviously safest route. Posting gifts, rather than delivering them in person, is also suggested.
In the case of indoor, in-person mixing, Sage encourages people to use hand sanitiser and space out seating to follow social distancing guidance, as well as opening windows to allow ventilation. The group also urges people to limit the number of guests, and the length of visitors’ stays.
Experts say sharing food and drink with other households is risky, and suggested tweaking the entertainmenton offer to make it safer: close contact activities, like board games, should be avoided, with quizzes offered as a lower-risk alternative.