'People will die' if households mix at Christmas, scientist warns

A former government scientist has warned that people will die with coronavirus if households are allowed to mix on Christmas Day.

Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist whose modelling influenced the national lockdown in March, said whether or not coronavirus measures are eased for the festive season will be a matter of ‘political judgement’.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, he said: ‘It risks some transmission and there will be consequences of that. Some people will die because of getting infected on that day.

‘But if it is only one or two days the impact is likely to be limited. So that is really a political judgement about the cost versus the benefits.’

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On Saturday, the UK recorded a further 23,012 cases of the virus and 174 deaths across all settings. Professor Ferguson said that the NHS could struggle to cope if infections continue to increase at the current rate.

He commented: ‘There are little hints of slowing, for instance in the north-east of England, but we are not seeing the sort of slowing that we really need to get on top of this.

‘If the rate of growth continues as it is, it means that in a month’s time we will be above that peak level in March and that is probably unsustainable. We are in a critical time right now.’

His comments came after Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said on Friday that the idea of a normal Christmas ‘is wishful thinking in the extreme’.

Professor Ferguson warned that older pupils may have to be kept out of school if restrictions on household mixing fail to slow the rise in infections. He said: ‘[Banning households mixing] should have a significant effect, but as yet we have been unable to see it definitively.

‘If we go beyond that there is a limit to what we can do in terms of reducing contacts, short of starting to target, for instance, the older years in schools and sixth form colleges where we know older teenagers are able to transmit as adults.

‘Of course nobody wants to start moving to virtual education and closing schools even partially. The challenge may be that we are not able to get on top of the transmission otherwise.’ 

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