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Plans for Christmas currently hang in the balance as the UK moves through its second wave of COVID-19. Although currently not as bad at the initial wave that took place in the spring, the Christmas period will still look very different this year.
The four nations of the UK are currently following their own methods of suppressing the virus, with England currently in a near-full lockdown.
From November 5, the Government has asked people in England to stay at home and limit their interactions with other people.
Hospitality and non-essential retail is currently closed, although schools have been allowed to remain open.
This is England’s second national lockdown and the November rules closely resemble those that were in place for the first lockdown, which began in March.
Currently, due to end on December 2, there has been speculation about what England will look like and what restrictions will be in place on the run-up to Christmas.
Christmas poses several considerable problems in the current climate – usually a time for large gatherings, once normal activities like parties, shopping, and meeting with loved ones now pose a significant risk to individuals and public health.
What’s more, scientists have now warned that restrictions could stay in place until 2021 if the R rate does not decrease enough for it to be deemed safe.
SAGE experts have released new modelling and data which suggests restrictions will need to continue on the approach to Christmas.
The report reads: “If this is sustained until 2 December, the number of hospital admissions and deaths would be expected to fall until at least the second week of December.
“The longer-term outlook depends on both the nature of [restrictions] that are implemented in England after December 2 and policies over the festive period.”
It adds: “If England returns to the same application of the tiering system in place before November 5, then transmission will return to the same rate of increase as today.”
While news of a vaccine possibly being ready by the end of the year, COVID restrictions are likely to be in place for some time to come – so will we be in lockdown at Christmas?
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Will we be in lockdown at Christmas?
Ministers have been keen to reassure the public that Christmas can be saved if the current rules are adhered to and the R rate comes down to a suitable level.
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has insisted the current rules are time-limited.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4, he said: “Our expectation and firm hope is that on the basis of everything we know today is the measures we put in place…will be sufficient to do the job we need and we will seek to exit these restrictions back into a tiered approach at the end of the four-week period.”
The Prime Minister followed on from Mr Sunak’s comments, saying: “The advice I’ve received suggests that four weeks is enough for these measures to make a real impact.
“The UK Government and the devolved administrations are working together on a joint approach to the Christmas period, because all of us want to ensure families can come together, wherever they live.”
The Government also caused significant speculation with the reopening of the furlough scheme, which has now been extended well beyond the current lockdown in England.
The Jobs Retention Scheme will now run to March, and poses the question of just how long the Government thinks considerable restrictions will be in place for.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not currently following the same framework as England, as the devolved administrations have opted for vastly different approaches to managing the second wave.
As travelling across the four nations will be the plan for many, ministers from the devolved nations met with the UK Government this week to discuss what can be done.
They apparently “agreed on the importance of coordinating public messaging, in particular on travel both within the UK and abroad”.
A Cabinet Office spokesman added: “Officials from across the UK Government, Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive will work together on a joint approach to the Christmas period.”
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