Boris Johnson has warned families to make a “careful judgment” about visiting elderly relatives at Christmas as he revealed plans for a temporary easing of restrictions.
The Prime Minister said the virus “is obviously not going to grant a Christmas truce” and warned that if festive revellers “blow it with a big blowout Christmas”, the country will pay for it with tougher restrictions in the new year.
This comes as leaders of the devolved nations are devising plans for a national “special time-limited Christmas dispensation” following the easing of England’s second lockdown into a toughened-up version of the previous three-tier system from December 2.
Mr Johnson told the Commons on Monday: “We all want some kind of Christmas, we need it, we certainly feel we deserve it. But what we don’t want is to throw caution to the winds and allow the virus to flare up again, forcing us all back into lockdown in January.
“So to allow families to come together, while minimising the risk, we’re working with the devolved administrations on a special time-limited Christmas dispensation, embracing the whole of the United Kingdom.”
He added: “I love Christmas, I love a big get-together.
“I think the trouble is that the people of this country can see that there is a real risk that if we blow it at Christmas with a big blowout Christmas, then we’ll pay for it in the new year, and they want a cautious and balanced approach and that’s what we will deliver for the whole UK.”
Mr Johnson added the Government will be publishing guidance for people classed as “clinically extremely vulnerable” on how to manage the risks in each tier as well as over Christmas.
The Government’s Covid-19 Winter Plan states the virus “continues to pose a very real threat to the UK” but nurseries, schools and colleges will remain open until the usual end of term.
It also notes that since “Christmas will likely lead to an increase in transmission” it will be particularly important to be cautious early in the new year when NHS services are typically under the most pressure – with more than 95% of hospital beds usually occupied in some trusts.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also said on Monday that planned easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas will be “slight and careful” but household mixing is “likely” to be allowed.
Ms Sturgeon said: “We’re trying as hard as we can to reach a sensible balance, although it is possible – likely, in fact – that some households may be able to form slightly larger bubbles with each other for a short period over Christmas.
“We’re considering this because we recognise that isolation and loneliness can hit people particularly hard over the Christmas period.”
Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething said as part of the festive relaxation, leaders are also considering “a common arrangement for travel across the UK”, and called for people to consider taking a “complete break” from seeing others before commuting home for Christmas.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock added he hopes the Government will not have to enforce another national lockdown, in response to Sir Edward Leigh telling the Commons that over Christmas “we don’t want it to be just a holy night, we don’t want it to be a silent night either”.
The Prime Minister, who is still self-isolating, will hold a virtual press conference at 7pm on Monday evening to outline the plans for the end of England’s second lockdown and beyond, looking ahead to the weeks before Christmas.