CHRISTMAS could be “tragic” for grandparents this year as experts warn festive mixing poses a “substantial risk” for older generations.
The government is keen to relax coronavirus restrictions over the festive period, and could allow up to four households to meet over Christmas.
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But one expert has this morning warned that the government is putting “too much” emphasis on a normal Christmas and said we are “on the cusp” of protecting the elderly.
Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London (UCL) and a member of Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said mixing at Christmas could “fuel the Covid fire”.
Speaking in a personal capacity, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Mixing at Christmas does pose substantial risks, particularly in terms of bringing together generations with high incidence of infection with the older generations who currently have much lower levels of infection and are at most risk of dying if they catch Covid.
"My personal view is we're putting far too much emphasis on having a near-normal Christmas.
"We know respiratory infections peak in January so throwing fuel on the fire over Christmas can only contribute to this."
His comments come after it was revealed that families may be able to form social "bubbles" with up to four households for five days of "freedom" over the festive period.
We're on the cusp of being able to protect those elderly people who we love through vaccination and it would be tragic to throw that opportunity away
The move would allow relatives to spend several days together and wouldn't have to choose between grandparents.
But Public Health England (PHE) officials warned every day of easing would demand "five days of tighter restrictions".
This paves the way for 25 days of lockdown in the New Year.
Ministers are due to announce a new system of regional restrictions next week for the period after December 2.
Prof Hayward said celebrating Christmas could diminish the progress the country has made in terms of driving down infection rates of the virus.
He said: "We're on the cusp of being able to protect those elderly people who we love through vaccination and it would be tragic to throw that opportunity away and waste the gains we've made during lockdown by trying to return to normality over the holidays."
The elderly had been forced to shield during the first Covid lockdown and while restriction slightly eased for the second round of restrictions, many have been unable to see loved ones for months.
Prof Hayward said the messaging from the government was “inconsistent” and added that there would be a cost for families coming together.
One of the costs, it was revealed yesterday, would be a 25-day lockdown in January to pay for the mixing in December.
Dr Susan Hopkins yesterday morning told a Downing Street briefing we would need "two days of tighter measures" for every day we ease lockdown after December 2.
But by yesterday afternoon PHE said it was actually five days, not two.
Instead of 10 days of lockdown to pay for five days over Christmas, as was earlier suggested, it would actually amount to 25 days of added pain.
Referring to previous advice from Sage scientists, Dr Hopkins said "every day we release we need two days of tighter restrictions", to reduce the number of contacts we have.
But the correction pointed out: "At the press conference this morning when the panel were asked about Christmas plans, in answering, Susan Hopkins referred to 'Sage advice previously' as showing that for every one day of 'release' two days of tighter restrictions would be needed.
"She misspoke here, the Sage advice actually referred to modelling indicating that for every one day of relaxation five days of tighter restrictions would potentially be needed."
Prof Hayward added: "When policies are undulating between stay at home to save lives, eat out to help out, the tier system, second lockdown and proposals for an amnesty on social distancing, it's a highly inconsistent message.
"Whereas in fact the things that people need to do to stay safe and to keep their loved ones safe are relatively simple.
"Avoid, as far as possible, indoor close contact with people outside of your household, avoid crowded places and protect the most vulnerable by not putting them at unnecessary risk."
During the PHE conference yesterday Dame Angela McLean highlighted that the R rate in the UK was between 1 and 1.2, but said that this would need to be below 1 if the infection was to stop spreading.
Prof Hayward added that approaching 1 “isn’t good enough” and said that this means the infection rate is still increasing.
He added: "It needs to be clearly below 1 and it needs to get to low levels, rather than the high levels that we still have."
Government scientists are pushing for the three-tier system to be strengthened in the run-up to Christmas to prevent an upsurge in infections.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to relax Covid rules over Christmas to allow families to come together "at the end of what has been an incredibly difficult year".
Prof Hayward said that imposing stricter tiers than before would be a “very difficult balance”.
He added: "We would need to be very mindful of the fact that this last period of the year is absolutely critical economically for many businesses so I think we do need to find a way of allowing them to function but in a responsible way."
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