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Coronavirus news – live: Christmas lockdown easing to go ahead in England as talks continue over rest of UK

People walk along Oxford Street, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London

There are no plans to change the number of days or households allowed to mix in England over Christmas, according to a government source.  

Urgent talks between UK leaders on the planned easing of coronavirus restrictions to allow three households to mix indoors between 23 and 27 December will resume tomorrow amid increasing pressure to halt the plans over concerns of a fresh spike in cases.  

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove discussed the scheduled relaxation with the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on Tuesday but did not confirm a new position. 

The editors of the British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal have published a joint editorial calling for the relaxed Christmas rules to be cancelled, warning that the plans are a “major error that will cost many lives”.

It comes as London mayor Sadiq Khan urged the government to review the plans to allow up to three households to mix over the festive period, amid fears cases will surge in January. The capital, along with parts of Essex and Hertfordshire, will enter the harshest tier of coronavirus restrictions from a minute past midnight tonight.

However, ministers have said people should “do the minimum” if they visit their family over the festive period.


Schools threatened with legal action

Waltham Forest Council in north London said local schools had been threatened with legal action by the government if they did not stay open, after the council advised them to move to online learning ahead of Christmas.

Council leader Clare Coghill said in a statement: “We have been made aware that the minister for school standards, the Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, has written to schools across Waltham Forest threatening legal action if they do not stay open or reopen where they have followed the advice given by us yesterday.

“We would note that as of the issuing of this statement we have received no correspondence from the minister today in relation to that advice.”

Chiara Giordano15 December 2020 22:43


Staff at Cardiff mass vaccination centre test positive

Staff at a mass vaccination centre in Cardiff have tested positive for Covid just days after it opened.  

It comes as new testing sites are being opened around the city due to a surge in cases, with Covid-19 infection rates in the Welsh capital having risen by 90 per cent in the past week alone.  

In a post on Twitter, CVUHB said: “We can confirm that a number of staff have tested positive at one of our Mass Vaccination Centres. We are implementing testing of staff at the centre and anyone that is identified as a close contact will be asked to self-isolate.  

“Currently, no additional risk has been identified to anyone who has been vaccinated at the centre. We would like to take this opportunity to remind the public that the virus is still prevalent in our local communities.”  

According to the BBC, the vaccination centre is in the Splott area of the city and nine staff have tested positive. 

Chiara Giordano15 December 2020 22:25


NHS will be overwhelmed if Christmas mixing goes ahead, says scientific adviser

The NHS will be overwhelmed at the time when it needs to deliver the coronavirus vaccine if large numbers of people mix at Christmas, a government scientific adviser has warned.  

Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the scientific pandemic insights group on behaviours (SPI-B), told Channel 4 News: “One of the problems is the messaging has been extremely poor so I think the relaxation of the rules sent a message to people not only that they could meet up but that it was safe to meet up.  

“As a consequence of that, the polling showed the proportion of people that intended to meet up went up from one in six to two in five.  

“The simple matter is if that many people mix, and if even more mix, then the consequence will be more infections, it will be more hospitalisations, it will mean the NHS being overwhelmed, as the BMJ and Health Service Journal said, precisely at the point where we need the NHS to roll out the vaccine.” 

Chiara Giordano15 December 2020 21:38


Christmas lockdown easing to go ahead in England, source says

Urgent talks between UK leaders on the planned easing of restrictions to allow three households to mix indoors between 23 and 27 December will resume tomorrow amid increasing pressure to halt the plans over concerns of a fresh spike in cases.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove discussed the scheduled relaxation with the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland this evening but they did not confirm a new position.  

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier argued there is a case for reducing the planned freedoms and indicated she could break with the four-nation approach.  

But her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford said the current plans were a “hard-won agreement” and he would “not lightly put it aside” ahead of the first meeting. 

Chiara Giordano15 December 2020 21:25


The Welsh government has confirmed first minister Mark Drakeford will meet with leaders of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Cabinet minister Michael Gove on Wednesday afternoon for further discussions on the UK’s joint approach to Christmas.

A Welsh government spokesman told the PA news agency: “Talks will reconvene tomorrow. Nothing has been decided at this point.”

Chiara Giordano15 December 2020 21:13


London councils and online teaching

Three London councils have been at the centre of a row with the government over what schools should do in the last few days of term, after issuing advice to push classes online over coronavirus fears. 

Islington council has now changed its guidance following discussions with the DfE, telling schools to open as usual tomorrow, and saying they can arrange an inset day on Thursday, the last day of term. On Monday, the council advised schools to move to online learning from the end of Tuesday because of a rise in coronavirus cases across the capital.

Meanwhile, Waltham Forest council has indicated it would not bow to ministers’ pressure to withdraw its advice, which told schools on Monday to go online as soon as possible.

Greenwich council in south London has told schools to reopen to all pupils after being threatened with legal action by the education secretary for recommending switching to online learning over coronavirus fears.

Full story here:

Zoe Tidman15 December 2020 21:06


England braces for more areas to go into Tier 3

Around 34 million people in England – about 60 per cent of the population – are set to be under the highest level of coronavirus restrictions as London, most of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire move into tier 3 at a minute past midnight on Wednesday.

Tom Embury-Dennis has the full story:

Zoe Tidman15 December 2020 20:45


PM ‘doesn’t want to be seen to be punishing the North’ over Christmas, minister says

ITV’s political editor quotes a government minister as saying that Boris Johnson does not want to be seen to be punishing the North by tightening Christmas restrictions, given that the current alarm over case rates is more significant in and around London.

Andy Gregory15 December 2020 20:20


‘No plans’ to change Christmas regulations in England, government source says

A UK government source has described a “constructive call” between Michael Gove and leaders of the devolved nations as they sought to agree on whether to go ahead with the planned relaxation of restrictions at Christmas.

But “there are no plans to change the regulations in England”, they said.

“We’re keen to maintain a UK wide approach and will have further discussions with DAs [devolved administrations] tomorrow.”

Andy Gregory15 December 2020 20:06


Christmas plans hang in the balance as scientists brand relaxed social distancing ‘rash’

Our political editor Andrew Woodcock has more details on the decisions about Christmas being hashed out by governments across the UK, after Downing Street confirmed the current plans are “under review” and leaders at a four-nations meeting failed to reach agreement.

He reports that UK government ministers are not thought to be planning a change in regulations, but leaning instead towards strengthening guidance on issues like travel between areas in different tiers and meeting outside or with windows open.

Read the full piece here:

Andy Gregory15 December 2020 20:03