POLITICS
18/11/2020 11:21 PM AEDT | Updated 19/11/2020 4:53 AM AEDT

England Will Need Five Days Of Lockdown For Every Day Off At Christmas, Says PHE

Public Health England raises prospect of "good family Christmas" – followed by a lengthy return to tougher restrictions.

An extra five days of strict lockdown measures will have to be imposed for every single day the rules are relaxed over Christmas, Public Health England has confirmed.

It is a significantly bleaker picture than the one painted by PHE deputy director Dr Susan Hopkins on Wednesday morning when she told a Downing Street press conference that “for every day that we release, we will need two days of tighter restrictions”.

PHE has now corrected Hopkins’s statement and said the epidemiologist meant to say five days of restrictions would be needed per day of relaxation to keep coronavirus infections under control.

Hopkins said that “hopefully” Boris Johnson would allow “some mixing” of people over the Christmas holidays.

“Then, I think, once we have got past the Christmas period if there has been a release and some socialisation we will all have to be very responsible and reduce those contacts again,” she said.

According to The Sun, one option under consideration is a five-day period beginning on Christmas Eve during which households could mix.

If the rules are loosened for five days, that would mean 25 days of tighter restrictions would then be needed.

The government science office said the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) advice on five days of restrictions for every one day of “release” was “very preliminary work” and has not yet been published.

Johnson has all but promised the national lockdown in England will end when the measures legally expire on December 2.

The prime minister has said he wants to then revert to a system of local measures.

A return to a tiered system of local restrictions does not necessarily mean a return to the levels in place before November 5. 

It has been reported a fourth more severe level could be added, or that an entirely new regional approach might be introduced.

But the prime minister is already facing a backlash from Tory MPs, who will be given the opportunity to vote on what happens next.

Mark Harper, the former Tory chief whip, said: “We cannot keep living under a cycle of restrictions, expect people to be grateful for being let out to enjoy the festive season, only to impose strict restrictions on them afterwards, causing health problems and destroying livelihoods.”

Steve Baker, who runs the anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs with Harper, said “freedom cannot just be for Christmas”.

“Lockdowns and restrictions cause immense economic, social and non-Covid health damage and we’ve got to start talking about those so that we know the restrictions we’re being asked to live under are not causing more harm than good to our citizens,” he said.

“We’ve also got to develop a much better strategy for living with this virus that doesn’t require us being locked up and freed by the government.”

Angela McLean, the deputy chief scientific adviser, confirmed a the press conference that scientists advising the government had sent “some advice in over the weekend” to ministers about relaxing restrictions over Christmas.

“But we genuinely don’t know what decisions have been made,” she added. “We are advisers. We advise, they decide.”

Johnson has all but promised the national lockdown in England will end when the measures legally expire on December 2. The prime minister has said he wants to then revert to a system of lo

Steve Baker, who runs the anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs with Harper, said: “Freedom cannot just be for Christmas.

“Lockdowns and restrictions cause immense economic, social and non-Covid health damage and we’ve got to start talking about those so that we know the restrictions we’re being asked to live under are not causing more harm than good to our citizens.

“We’ve also got to develop a much better strategy for living with this virus that doesn’t require us being locked up and freed by the government.”

Opposition from Tory MPs could mean Johnson will have to rely on Keir Starmer and Labour votes to impose any new lockdown restrictions after December 2.

Asked about the scientists’ suggestions of tight restrictions before and after any Christmas “relaxation”, Johnson’s spokesperson said it was No.10′s “clear intent” for the public to have as normal a break as possible.

“It’s obviously important that we look at the most recent data and that will inform the next stages. I’m obviously not going to preempt them, but I would point you back to what the PM has said about returning to a regionalised tiered system,” they said.

“The PM has been clear in his desire to try and allow families to have Christmas together. We accept it won’t be a normal Christmas. We are taking the tougher measures now to drive down transmission.”

Editor’s note: The original version of this story stated that PHE had said two days of lockdown would be needed for every day off at Christmas, in line with Hopkins’s statement. This has now been corrected in line with PHE’s own amendment.