London (AFP) – No need to take it to the extreme.
This is the new Christmas message published by the leaders of the Four Nations in the United Kingdom on Wednesday, after toughening their advice on what people should do during the holiday period.
Last month, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland agreed to allow a maximum of three families to mix between December 23 and December 27, regardless of local restrictions in place.
But after the sharp spike in the number of new infections – 25,161 more infections were recorded on Wednesday, the highest level since November 14 – families have been urged to see the rules as the outer limits of what they can do.
“I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, and I’m afraid I mean little this year,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a press conference. “I want to stress that these are maximum limits, not goals.”
His comments echoed those of other leaders elsewhere, although Wells has said it will set out to limit bubbles to two families.
Johnson said the Christmas ban would be “inhuman” but in light of the “alarming” increase in new infections in some parts of the country, people should think carefully about what they should do. He said anyone planning to meet others during the commutation should start limiting contacts from Friday, for example.
Professor Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, said the advice was akin to driving at full speed in icy conditions.
“Just because you can’t mean you should,” he said.
Concerns about the planned easing have escalated in recent days. With new infections on the rise in many places, many fear that relaxation will only lead to more deaths. On Wednesday, the UK recorded 612 more COVID-related deaths, taking the total to 65,520 – the second highest in Europe after Italy.
Confusion surrounding the planned easing was exacerbated by the fact that many parts of the country saw restrictions tightened this week. On Wednesday, London and surrounding areas entered the highest level of domestic restrictions in England – Level 3 – as bars and restaurants were forced to close again except for dining out, and further restrictions were placed on meetings of various families.
Johnson also said that the elderly and the most vulnerable should be vaccinated by early 2021. The United Kingdom is introducing the vaccine developed by the American company Pfizer and the German company BioNTech after becoming the first country in the world on December 8 to allow it.
Other vaccines, from the US biotechnology company Moderna and those developed by the University of Oxford and the British pharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca, are currently being evaluated by British regulators.
The new British vaccination minister, Nadim Al-Zahawi, said on Wednesday that 137,897 people have received a bullet since the vaccinations began. They should all be back in three weeks for a follow-up shot.
The government, which has so far been providing the vaccine for free mainly in hospitals, is primarily targeting workers in nursing homes and people over the age of 80. Residents in nursing homes are now being vaccinated and also some issues related to vaccine transportation, which need to be in very cold temperatures, have been addressed.
Despite the update, questions remain about how many people can be vaccinated on any given day, and the percentage of people who are offered the vaccine agree to get the vaccine.
To date, 800,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are known to be in the UK and another 5 million doses are expected to arrive this year, half of the original forecast.
“With the vaccine and all the other measures we’re taking, we know things will be better in this country by Easter,” Johnson said. “And I’m sure next year’s Christmas will be as usual for every family in the country.”
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