Minister Says Parties Still On But People Should Take A "Different Approach" If They Want A Family Christmas
Gillian Keegan has said people should make a "sensible choice" about socialising if they want to "make it through to Christmas Day" with their families.
The care minister has insisted the government is "not intending" to bring in more restrictions over the festive period but "won't hesitate to act" if the NHS is at risk of being overwhelmed.
On Wednesday, England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said people should "prioritise" their socialising ahead of Christmas, suggesting they should scale back some meetings to ensure they do not contract the virus before Christmas Day.
The UK recorded its highest daily case rate since the pandemic began on Wednesday, with 78,610 new cases identified.
Speaking to Sky News, Keegan, the minister for care, said people should be making "sensible choices" about attending Christmas meet-ups, urging people to take tests and wear masks when meeting others.
"Most of us will know somebody now who's positive with Covid, and that means if you've tested positive, then you'll be in isolation over Christmas. So that's bound to make people a bit more cautious," she said.
"Make a sensible choice for yourself. If you're going to go to a party, take a test. If there's lots of people there you don't know, if that's your priority, fine. If your priority is to make it through to Christmas Day with your family then take a different approach."
Keegan said the "pros and cons" varied for different people, and that those who did wish to go out should test beforehand, wear a mask and try to go to well-ventilated places. She said she was due to attend a Christmas party that would now take place outside.
In a stark warning on Wednesday, Whitty said the "absolutely phenomenal" rate of new infections across the UK was likely to lead to "significant" pressure on the NHS due to an increase in hospitalisations coupled with staff shortages.
Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said those impacts were already being felt in London which has seen the highest number of new cases.
The senior medic said the staff forced to stay off sick would be the "biggest challenge" facing the health service, adding that Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospital trust were already facing shortages of around 10% due to illness.
Mike Grannatt, former emergency planning chief, said there was a "great fear" that hospitals could be overwhelmed in the coming weeks as cases continue to rise.
"The volume of cases means the health service can be put under severe pressure, possibly even overwhelmed, because of the number of people who attend, possibly, with severe cases or possibly because they are worried," he said.
"If people don't act in a way that keeps them safe and makes them feel safe...we are going to have a big problem.
"The health service is a finite resource, it has been working very hard, and I think there is a great fear we may crush all those volunteers and those frontline workers between the aspirations of the government and the fears of people who need good advice and good help."
Keegan also responded to criticism from the hospitality industry who have accused the government of bringing in a lockdown "by stealth" leading to hundreds of cancellations while failing to introduce further financial support.
She said: "We do still have support in place for businesses, we still have VAT reductions, we've still got business rates cuts of 66% and we have still got recovery loans in place.
"We are hoping this is quite a short period of time, so we can get everybody boosted and get that wall of defence back up, that is what we are trying to do here."
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