Christmas Plans Are Confused Again After Robert Jenrick Warned The Government “Won’t Hesitate” On Tougher Tiers
Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said the government 'won't hesitate' to take further action to deal with the new strain of Covid-19 (PA)
The dramatically scaled-back Christmas relaxation of Covid rules could be altered again after Robert Jenrick warned the government “won't hesitate” to act.
The communities secretary said there is “rising evidence” the virulent new coronavirus strain is spreading beyond London and the South East, amid reports more parts of England could be placed into tier 4 as soon as Boxing Day.
Speaking to Sky News, the Cabinet minister said the government’s high-level Covid operations committee is reviewing the latest data on rising case numbers this morning and will consider “whether we should take action now to try to head that off".
He said: “We’ve now had time to think again about whether further action is required in other parts of the country.
“And that’s the decision that the Prime Minister and other ministers will need to take in the next couple of days.”
But Mr Jenrick then suggested they may not wait until after Christmas, risking festive plans for people in the lower tiers, where it is recommended that no more than one household should meet on December 25, but would still legally be able to mix three households.
"We're asking people outside Tier 4 areas to exercise great care - only to come together with a small number of people and only for Christmas Day," he said.
"If we need to change that in light of the new variant, then we won't hesitate to do so.”
However appearing on BBC Breakfast several minutes later he seemed to row back from that idea, saying it was "extremely unlikely" the plans would change ahead of Christmas Day.
"Tomorrow's Christmas Eve, so I think it's extremely unlikely that anything will change there”, the minister said.
"We made very clear what the position is now. If you're in Tier 4, you can only meet up, unfortunately, with your own household or support bubble.
"If you're out of Tier 4, then on Christmas Day itself you can come together with others, up to three households."
Asked if he could guarantee it Mr Jenrick added: "There's absolutely no plan to do so. So I think people should go about their Christmas as they were planning to do so.
"Except trying to have in their mind the seriousness of the situation."
And in a later appearance on BBC Radio 4's Today programme he said: "We are not going to change people's plans 24, 48 hours ahead of Christmas.
"However, the Prime Minister and others have been very clear that, even outside of Tier 4, there is a strong degree of personal judgment to be exercised here.
"It's still up to people to come to a conclusion as to how many members of their family or other households they want to bring together on Christmas Day.
"The strong advice is to keep it small, to keep it short and therefore to be safe."
But he did not rule out placing more areas in tier 4 in the coming days, saying of the new variant, which is up to 70% more transmissible than previous versions of the virus:"We know it's very heavily concentrated in London and the East of England and the South East, but it's not exclusively so, it's also present more widely - that's a source of concern.”
After reports suggested local leaders and health officials met on Tuesday night to discuss moving Birmingham into tier 4 lockdown and some other areas up to tier 3, Mr Jenrick said "it may be necessary to take further action”.
The minister said there is no "immediate plan" to widen coronavirus restrictions on Boxing Day, as has been mooted, but “we will see whether it's necessary to do more and make sure that the tiered system is sufficiently robust for the new circumstances”
Adding: "Because remember, the tiered system was designed before we knew the full ferocity of the new variant, and so we do have to make sure it's sufficiently robust to be able to withstand this and to stop cases just rising at the very worrying levels they are now in parts of the country."