Loved ones ‘will catch Covid and die’ if families allowed to mix at Christmas, says professor


Professor Neil Ferguson has warned that loved ones ‘will catch Covid-19 and die’ if families are allowed to mix on Christmas Day, as doctors predict that mass cancellations for routine operations are ‘inevitable’ this winter.

The scientist, whose modelling led to the original lockdown in March, said schools may have to be closed to older pupils if restrictions on households mixing fail to stem the rise of coronavirus infections.

He said it will be a ‘political judgement’ as to whether regulations are relaxed over the festive season, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘It risks some transmission and there will be consequences of that. Some people will die because of getting infected on that day.

‘But if it is only one or two days the impact is likely to be limited. So that is really a political judgment about the cost versus the benefits.’ 

It follows the prospects for a family Christmas descending into further confusion yesterday, as Downing Street insisted that relatives should be able to gather – but a minister warned it will not be ‘normal’.

Professor Ferguson added: ‘That (banning households mixing) should have a significant effect but as yet we have been unable to see it definitively.

‘If we go beyond that there is a limit to what we can do in terms of reducing contacts, short of starting to target, for instance, the older years in schools and sixth form colleges where we know older teenagers are able to transmit as adults.

‘Of course nobody wants to start moving to virtual education and closing schools even partially. The challenge may be that we are not able to get on top of the transmission otherwise.’

Professor Neil Ferguson said it will be a ‘political judgement’ as to whether regulations on households mixing are relaxed over the festive season. Pictured: a shopper in Wrexham last night as the 6pm ‘fire break’ lockdown approached

Doctors have warned that the mass cancellation of routine operations is 'inevitable'. The BMA's Dr Rob Harwood said NHS trusts will have 'no choice' but to limit planned treatments for patients as they approach winter

Doctors have warned that the mass cancellation of routine operations is ‘inevitable’. The BMA’s Dr Rob Harwood said NHS trusts will have ‘no choice’ but to limit planned treatments for patients as they approach winter

Professor Ferguson said schools may have to be closed to older pupils if restrictions on households mixing fail to stem the rise of coronavirus infections (pictured: an empty classroom at Manor Park School and Nursery in Cheshire)

Professor Ferguson said schools may have to be closed to older pupils if restrictions on households mixing fail to stem the rise of coronavirus infections (pictured: an empty classroom at Manor Park School and Nursery in Cheshire)

Meanwhile Dr Nick Scriven, former president of the Society for Acute Medicine, warned last night that cancellations would be ‘inevitable’ across large areas of the health service.

He said: ‘I feel it is unrealistic to expect trusts across the country to meet the set elective targets in the current climate.’

The scientist (above), whose modelling led to the original lockdown in March, said of regulations being relaxed: 'Some people will die because of getting infected on that day'

The scientist (above), whose modelling led to the original lockdown in March, said of regulations being relaxed: ‘Some people will die because of getting infected on that day’

NHS trusts in Chesterfield, Northampton, Newcastle and Nottingham confirmed yesterday that they were postponing at least some non-urgent activity, while Rotherham, Liverpool, Bradford and Plymouth have announced similar actions in the last week.  

Dr Rob Harwood, the chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) hospital consultants committee, said trusts will have ‘no choice’ but to limit planned treatments for patients.

He told The Guardian: ‘As we approach winter, it’s likely that many trusts will have no choice but to continue to restrict their elective care services, which is incredibly worrying for both staff and patients, as backlogs increase and health conditions potentially worsen.’

Speaking on operations being cancelled, Dr Nick Scriven the former president of the Society for Acute Medicine and a consultant physician, added: ‘I think this is going to be inevitable across large areas of the health service as the pandemic and winter coincide. 

‘We know bed numbers are low compared with other countries and with the necessary infection control processes the ‘functioning’ of what we have is slowed down across the board.’

Professor Ferguson also warned that the NHS will be unable to cope if coronavirus cases continue to increase at the present rate, saying that while infections among 18 to 21-year-olds were falling, they were continuing to rise in other age groups.  

Normal Christmas is ‘wishful thinking’, says SAGE adviser 

The idea that ‘we can carry on as we are’ and have a normal Christmas ‘is wishful thinking in the extreme’, a Government scientific adviser has said.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said ‘radical action’ would be needed to stem the rise in coronavirus cases, particularly in regions with high incidence of the virus.

Prof Edmunds, who told MPs on Wednesday that tens of thousands of deaths could occur during this wave of the pandemic, said further measures are needed to bring cases down.

He told the PA news agency that a circuit-breaker is needed across the whole country or at least in areas where incidence is high.

‘The only way that we can have a relatively safe and normal Christmas is if we take radical action now to reduce incidence – at the very least in high incidence areas – and keep the incidence low across the country by implementing a package of measures to reduce social contacts,’ he said.

‘The notion that we can carry on as we are and have a Christmas that we can celebrate normally with friends and family is wishful thinking in the extreme.’

He explained: ‘Unfortunately, in every other age group case numbers continue to rise at about the same rate they were. There are little hints of slowing, for instance in the North East of England, but we are not seeing the sort of slowing that we really need to to get on top of this. 

‘It is a worrying situation. We now have 8,000 people in hospital with Covid. That is about a third of the level we were at the peak of the pandemic in March.

‘If the rate of growth continues as it is, it means that in a month’s time we will above that peak level in March and that is probably unsustainable.

‘We are in a critical time right now. The health system will not be able to cope with this rate of growth for much longer.’ 

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has said his own group was looking at how interventions might work over the winter, but these had not been requested by the Government.

Of Sage, he said: ‘We haven’t specifically been asked to look at different policies quite honestly, so nobody’s asking us to say ‘well what should we do here?’

‘So these are things that we’ve really taken on ourselves and decided to look at ourselves.’

There are tough restrictions on people meeting indoors across much of the UK, but asked whether families should abandon hope of meeting up, a No10 spokesman previously said: ‘The PM has been clear previously that he is hopeful that in many ways we could be able to get some aspects of our lives back to normal by Christmas. 

‘As I say, we’ve been clear about the ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year.’

The comments contrasted with the stance taken by Treasury Chief Secretary Steve Barclay in a round of interviews on Friday morning. 

Government scientists claimed the crucial R rate has dropped slightly and an array of statistics revealed cases are no longer growing as quickly as they once were, although the epidemic is still growing (pictured: Boris Johnson in London yesterday)

Government scientists claimed the crucial R rate has dropped slightly and an array of statistics revealed cases are no longer growing as quickly as they once were, although the epidemic is still growing (pictured: Boris Johnson in London yesterday)

Britain's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Mr Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak take part in a coronavirus briefing on Thursday. The UK yesterday announced 20,530 more coronavirus cases

Britain’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, Mr Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak take part in a coronavirus briefing on Thursday. The UK yesterday announced 20,530 more coronavirus cases

Christmas chaos as No10 says families CAN gather this year but minister warns it won’t be ‘normal’ 

The prospects for a family Christmas descended further into confusion yesterday as Downing Street insisted families should be able to gather – but a minister warned it will not be ‘normal’.

The mixed messages came as politicians desperately try to get a grip on a surge in coronavirus cases – with lockdowns tightening in many areas.

There are tough restrictions on people meeting indoors across much of the UK, but asked whether families should abandon hope of meeting up, a No10 spokesman said: ‘The PM has been clear previously that he is hopeful that in many ways we could be able to get some aspects of our lives back to normal by Christmas.

‘As I say, we’ve been clear about the ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year.’

The comments contrasted with the stance taken by Treasury Chief Secretary Steve Barclay in a round of interviews yesterday morning.

He said: ‘I think few people expect it to be exactly as it would normally because we will be living with this virus for some time.’ 

He said: ‘I think few people expect it to be exactly as it would normally because we will be living with this virus for some time.

‘And the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser have been very clear on that.

‘But, your point really was about the ability of families to spend Christmas together – that is something we all hope to be in a position to do.’

Meanwhile, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said the only way to save the festive season was to impose a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown now – something Labour has been demanding.

She told BBC Breakfast: ‘The tier system so far has not worked to reduce infections.

‘What we are looking at unfortunately – given the Government doesn’t seem to be willing to shift on this when half-term holidays are coming up – what we are looking up to Christmas is an increasingly difficult situation in lots of parts of the country.’

Greater Manchester moved into the highest alert level, Tier 3, on Friday morning, and Wales introduced its two-week ‘firebreak’ lockdown at 6pm last night. 

Coventry, Stoke and Slough entered Tier 2 today, while talks between Westminster and civic leaders in Nottingham over possible Tier 3 restrictions were continuing yesterday. 

The UK yesterday announced 20,530 more coronavirus cases and the deaths of 224 people but official data suggests the country’s outbreak may finally be slowing down.

Positive tests are up 31 per cent on last Friday, when there were 15,650, and deaths have surged by 65 per cent in a week.

But Government scientists claimed the crucial R rate has dropped slightly and an array of statistics revealed cases are no longer growing as quickly as they once were, although the epidemic is still growing.

SAGE estimates the reproduction rate for the UK has fallen for the first time in a month, from between 1.3-1.5 to 1.2-1.4. The number – the key measure at the heart of Number 10’s plan to control the virus – must stay below one, or the outbreak will continue to grow.

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