UK Markets closed

Banning Christmas will 'simply lead to breaches' of lockdown rules, expert warns

George Martin
·3-min read
A pedestrian wearing a face mask or covering due to the COVID-19 pandemic takes a photograph of Christmas trees in Covent Garden in central London on November 17, 2020. - Britain has been the worst-hit nation in Europe recording more than 50,000 coronavirus deaths from some 1.2 million positive cases. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
A pedestrian wearing a face mask takes a photograph of Christmas trees in Covent Garden in central London. (Getty)

Banning Christmas celebrations will “simply lead to breaches” of social distancing measures, one of the government’s scientific advisors has warned.

Calum Semple, a professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University, predicted that people would ignore the government’s restrictions if they are not relaxed over Christmas.

Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the current lockdown meant areas with high infection rates were seeing the “tide turning”.

But he cautioned that there would “always be a price” for lifting the nationwide lockdown for the festive season.

Pedestrians, some wearing face masks or coverings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walk past Christmas lights on Oxford Street in central London on November 17, 2020. - Britain has been the worst-hit nation in Europe recording more than 50,000 coronavirus deaths from some 1.2 million positive cases. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Shoppers wearing masks in Oxford Street, London. (Getty)

"In reality we can't ban Christmas and to do so would simply lead to breaches and what are you going to do about that?” Semple told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

"So what we are looking at is getting the R down, but also get the absolute number of cases and there's real good news there.

"Nationally we are seeing cases in the community fall and in those areas that went into Tier 3 before lockdown we are already seeing the tide turning with the number of hospital admissions and we will shortly see the deaths reduce as well."

Read more: Legal challenge launched over 'unlawful' coronavirus crisis appointments

Semple said regulations could be relaxed over Christmas if the tier system proves successful, and added that even if a relaxation of measures led to tighter restrictions later these might not be "draconian".

He continued: "There's every reason to believe that when lockdown is lifted many areas will be able to go into lower tiers, but some areas will remain in higher tiers.

"Then you have this period in the run-up to Christmas and, hopefully, if the system works, we will be able to relax some regulations for a few days, but there's always a price for that."

Watch: Stricter tier system to be reintroduced after lockdown ends next month

When asked if every day of relaxation would require five days of tighter restrictions, he said: "Yeah, I think in the round it's right but it shouldn't be seen that it is going to be draconian restrictions, it's just going to prolong restrictions and higher-level restriction for some areas."

Chancellor Rishi Sunak admitted on Sunday that “it is not going to be a normal Christmas this year” but said it was too early to say whether further restrictions would be needed after the festive period.

"The prime minister will be setting out more details tomorrow about the next steps in our fight against coronavirus,” he also told Sky News' Sophy Ridge.

"I think the good news is we will be exiting national restrictions on December 2 as the Prime Minister said at the beginning of the month-long restrictions, we'll be going back into a tiered system, which is a far better way to tackle this on a localised approach.

"With regard to Christmas, I think frustrating as it is for all of us, Christmas is not going to be normal this year, but, that said, the Prime Minister and everyone else, we're looking at ways to see how families can spend some time with each other over (the) Christmas period.

"Obviously that's something that we would like to do and it's been a difficult year for all of us, but as I said it's not going to be a normal Christmas this year."

Coronavirus: what happened today

Click here to sign up to the latest news and information with our daily Catch-up newsletter