Wednesday 18 November 2020 3:51 pm

Christmas relaxation of restrictions will likely spell January lockdown

England could face a month-long lockdown in January in exchange for five days of relaxed restrictions over Christmas, the UK’s health chiefs have suggested.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to NHS Test and Trace, initially told a Downing Street briefing this morning that advice from Sage showed “for every day that we release [measures] we will need two days of tighter restrictions”.

However, a spokesperson for Public Health England later clarified that Hopkins had misspoken, and that “for every one day of relaxation, five days of tighter restrictions would potentially be needed.”

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Hopkins added: “Coming into Christmas we need to be very careful about the number of contacts that we have, to reduce transmission before Christmas and get our cases as low as possible.”

The chief medical adviser stoked speculation that England may enter a third national lockdown after the festive season, adding: “Then, I think, once we have got past the Christmas period if there has been a release and some socialisation we will all have to be very responsible and reduce those contacts again.”

Government sources told the Telegraph that default restrictions when England leaves its month-long lockdown are likely to include a ban on mixing with other households until close to Christmas.

Ministers are said to be drawing up an “end of lockdown package” ready to be announced next week, which will include a schedule for Britain’s vaccination programme and an expansion of mass testing.

Boris Johnson has vowed to ease lockdown restrictions on 2 December in a bid to boost the economy over the key Christmas trading period.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly promised England will return to the “regional tiered approach” after its month-long national lockdown, warning that lower tiers may see restrictions tightened in a bid to curb rising infection numbers.

But the UK’s top scientific advisers today threw cold water on hopes for a return to Tier 1 restrictions, under which household mixing is still allowed.

“Hopefully the government will make the decision that will allow us to have some mixing, but we will wait and see what that is,” said Hopkins.

It comes after the UK’s top health officials last week set out the priority list for vaccination against coronavirus, following promising results from both Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccine candidates.

Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the committee, said the first phase of vaccine rollout would “prioritise the most vulnerable individuals in society, specifically people who are most likely to die from severe Covid-19 infection”. 

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Interim current recommendations place care home residents and care home workers at the top of the priority list, followed by older age groups from 80-plus-year-olds, going down to 60-plus-year-olds, Professor Lim said.

“Then adults with underlying health conditions, then 50-plus-year-olds, going down the age bands.”