Is it safe to meet at Christmas? UK CMOs issue warning in letter to health workers

Chris Whitty: Hugging elderly relatives 'does not make sense'

Ministers will briefly approve of intermingling during the Christmas season, the Government announced last month. Leaders in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have approved plans to allow families to combine “bubbles” between December 23 and 27. They will allow people to see one another regardless of tiers or country-specific measures, but said people make decisions about who to include in their bubble with “their judgement”.

Is it safe to meet at Christmas?

Christmas “bubbles” will allow people to combine three existing bubbles into one, without a person limit.

People have taken the news as a free pass to see their families despite surging COVID-19 cases.

While the rules will allow people to see friends and relatives in the safest way possible, they don’t come without risk.

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Writing in a letter released today, the Chief Medical Officers of the four home nations wrote about a potential spike in cases due to the Christmas policy.

England’s CMO, Professor Chris Whitty, teamed up with Doctors Michael McBride, Gregor Smith and Frank Atherton, the CMOs for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales respectively, to issue an update to the healthcare profession ahead of winter.

They spoke of incoming Covid cases, vaccines and research, and warned Christmas respite would increase the NHS workload.

They wrote: “The social mixing which occurs around Christmas may well put additional pressure on hospitals and general practice in the New Year and we need to be ready for that.

“Many of you will be working exceptionally hard to manage Covid on top of other medical problems and have been doing so for a long time.”

“We think it likely that by spring the effects of vaccination will begin to be felt in reducing Covid admissions, attendances and deaths significantly but there are many weeks before we get to that stage.

“We must support one another as a profession as we go to the next, hard months.”

Their letter comes after other scientists clubbed together to warn of a “third wave” as a direct result of the incoming policy.

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Officials with the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) have thrown their weight against the idea.

Professor Andrew Hayward, Director of the UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, told BBC Two’s Newsnight the policy could lead to hospitals being “overrun”.

He said: “Effectively what this will be doing is throwing fuel on the Covid fire.

“I think it will definitely lead to increased transmission.

“It is likely to lead to a third wave of infection, with hospitals being overrun, and more unnecessary deaths.”

He added: “We are still in a country where we have got high levels of infection with Covid, particularly in young people.

“Bringing them together for hours, let alone days, with elderly relatives, I think, is a recipe for regret for many families.

“With the vaccine on the way, if we are not very careful over Christmas we are really in danger of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on this one.”

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