A government minister has suggested Britons should delay their Christmas celebrations until Easter, amid pressure for the festive relaxation of rules to be scrapped.
Following warnings that allowing people to meet up for several days over Christmas could increase pressure on the NHS, the government has so far resisted backtracking.
But housing and communities secretary Robert Jenrick said this morning that relaxing coronavirus restrictions over Christmas will lead to a rise in the infection rate.
He told Sky News: “This is a virus that thrives on social interaction, so bringing more people together, even over this short period of time, is not cost-free. It will have consequences in terms of increasing the rate. It will rise.”
"Easter can be the new Christmas for some people."
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick says that government guidance over Christmas remains in place, but people need to use their own personal judgement about what is right for their family.
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Jenrick suggested some people may want to put off large family gatherings until the spring, adding: “Easter can be the new Christmas.”
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove will this morning resume crisis talks with leaders of the devolved administrations this morning over the plans to allow up to three households to mix between 23 and 27 December.
A UK government source acknowledged the four UK nations may take differing approaches, but insisted there would be no change in the law for the festive freedoms in England.
Jenrick reiterated the government's position, saying it would not be changing the “legal framework” that allows people to form household “bubbles” over five days of the holiday period.
He said: “We all need to use our own personal judgement thinking about our own families whether we have particularly elderly or clinically vulnerable relatives who might be round the Christmas table, and also looking at the fact that the rates of the virus are rising in many parts of the country.
Watch: Boris Johnson resists calls to ‘cancel Christmas’
“Thinking of some of the examples we can see internationally like Thanksgiving, for example, where lots of people coming together did have consequences after the event.
“I would just urge people to use their personal judgement and to think carefully whether this is the right thing for their family.”
Jenrick suggested that families can instead meet virtually over Christmas, highlighting that other faiths have held celebrations online during the pandemic.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham also urged people to think about changing their Christmas plans and not travelling to see relatives.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if not travelling over the festive period should be the “firm” advice, he said: “I think that’s where we are heading.”
He added: “It always was the case that five days, three households, in my view was too much and I think people would have preferred a steadier approach through December into January.”
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said Christmas celebrations should be held in the “most modest way possible” if it is necessary to mix households.
She told BBC Breakfast: “I think, when this decision was made to have this loosening, we were in a slightly different position than we are now, in the middle of the lockdown in England, the tougher tier system was about to be introduced, and I think governments hoped that numbers would continue to go down, and that is not the case.”
Talks on Christmas plans began on Tuesday after two leading medical journals warned that a lessening of restrictions would “cost many lives”, and the British Medical Association (BMA) echoed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in demanding an urgent rethink.
They will resume as nearly 10.8 million more people begin living under the toughest restrictions when London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire moved into Tier 3.
The talks come as a poll suggested the majority of Britons believe the relaxation should be scrapped.
The YouGov survey of 3,856 adults on Tuesday indicated that 57% believe the plans should be dropped and that current rules should remain in place during the festive period.
Some 31% said the easing should go ahead as planned, while 12% said they were unsure.
Watch: The COVID dos and don’ts of Christmas this year