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Keir Starmer Wants Boris Johnson To Urgently Re-Think Christmas Relaxation Of Coronavirus Rules

Keir Starmer Wants Boris Johnson To Urgently Re-Think Christmas Relaxation Of Coronavirus Rules
5 min read

Sir Keir Starmer is calling on the government to urgently rethink the plans to relax the coronavirus restrictions for Christmas.

The Labour leader wants Boris Johnson to convene an emergency Cobra meeting to review the measures which will allow three households to join together for five days from December 23.

He said he has become “increasingly worried about the lifting of restrictions” following a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases.

And after London was placed into tier 3 a week before the festive unlocking was due to start, he said “a lot of people will be saying, hang on, I'm not sure this quite works”.

In a letter to the Prime Minister he said: “It has become increasingly clear over recent days that the tier system you introduced two weeks ago has failed to control transmission of Covid-19.

"Sadly, it does now appear that the Government has - once again - lost control of infections, putting our economy and our NHS at grave risk in the new year."

Sir Keir added: "I understand that people want to spend time with their families after this awful year, but the situation has clearly taken a turn for the worse since the decision about Christmas was taken. It serves no-one for politicians to ignore this fact.

"It is my view that you should now convene Cobra in the next 24 hours to review whether the current relaxation is appropriate given the rising number of cases.

"If you conclude with Government scientists that we need to take tougher action to keep people safe over Christmas, then you will have my support.”

This afternoon Michael Gove held a call with minsters from the devolved nations about the relaxation of the rules over Christmas amid speculation the proposals may be tightened.

After the meeting a spokeswoman for Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "Following this evening's call with counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales, ministers will discuss the current situation with medical and scientific advisers.

"It is expected that an update will be brought to the Executive on Thursday."

And a Welsh government spokesperson confirmed the meeting will "reconvene tomorrow to confirm the position”.

It comes after senior medics issued a rare plea over the PM's "rash" plans to ease the lockdown over Christmas, citing fears the impact could overwhelm the NHS.

In a rare joint intervention, the British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal said allowing household mixing could lead to a third wave in cases in the new year.

Several Liberal Democrat MPs have called on the government to look again at the plans, but until now Labour has been silent.

But speaking to BirminghamLive today Sir Keir said: "I'm increasingly worried about the lifting of restrictions over Christmas.

"I'm not going to pretend it's easy for the Government, because it isn't. You could understand the human desire for families to get together, particularly after a year like this.

"But I have to say, looking at the numbers, I am increasingly concerned about the lifting of restrictions. To keep areas in tier three, and put London into tier three, and then at the same time release restrictions over the Christmas period, I think a lot of people will be saying, hang on, I'm not sure this quite works.

"At the moment what I'd say to people is, we all have a responsibility to do whatever we can to keep the infection down. That means I think for most of us, staying at home if we possibly can for Christmas."

The former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has also backed a review of the plans, telling the Evening Standard: “I think they will inevitably have to be kept under review given the new strain of the virus."

London mayor Sadiq Khan told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “I’m not sure whether five days’ worth of relaxation, three households, is the right way forward.”

On whether he thought the government needed to rethink those rules, he replied: “I’m concerned about going from tier 2 to tier 3 to 'tier zero' to tier 3 potentially to a national lockdown and the NHS being overwhelmed in January and lives being lost.”

But Number 10 said it remains their "intention" to allow up to three households to mix over the Christmas period.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "As we always have done throughout the pandemic, we keep that under constant review but our intention to allow families and friends to meet up over the Christmas period remains."

But he declined to give a cut off date after which people could be confident the Christmas arrangements are no longer under review.

The spokesman added: "We have been clear that whilst we have published guidance that will allow families and friends to meet up it is imperative that people remain cautious and vigilant throughout the Christmas period.

"And remember that these guidelines set out what people can do, but what it isn't saying is this is what people should do so it is up to people to remain cautious and vigilant throughout the period."

He also refused to rule out suggestions the government is looking at reducing the number of days the Christmas bubbles can last from five to three, or may reduce the number of households in a bubble from three to two.

The spokesman replied: “We’ve set out the guidance for the Christmas bubbling arrangements. But as I’ve said we keep all advice under review.”

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