The UK government has confirmed the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions from 23 to 27 December will go ahead, despite a warning this morning (13 December) from an NHS chief over the danger of a third wave if the rules are relaxed.
NHS Providers, which represents health trusts in England, has written a letter to the Prime Minister today warning of the risks of relaxing coronavirus restrictions at a critical time.
Chief executive Chris Hopson writes in the letter: "A relaxation of restrictions on social contact, combined with the natural desire to celebrate a traditional festival, inevitably increases the spread of the virus.
"Whilst we are not, at this point, asking for a change in the proposed Christmas rules, we are concerned that the current public debate on these rules is ignoring the significant extra risk involved in this temporary relaxation.
"The prevailing public perception is 'thank goodness we can celebrate Christmas'. We believe it is vital for the public to understand that any extra social contact, particularly with those who are vulnerable to the effects of the virus, is risky and that they need to think very carefully before initiating such contact over the Christmas period."
However, speaking to Sky News, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed the Christmas relaxation period would not be reviewed, saying people deserved to see their families after a 'tough year'.
He said: "It's been a really tough year all round, everyone's felt it, I think people do need that five day window over Christmas to spend a bit of time with their loved ones.
"I think at a mental health level and an emotional level they do need it."
When pressed on the possibility of a third wave of coronavirus if restrictions were relaxed, Raab said: "What they said is if you want to have that five-day window you have got to be really careful between now and then.
"That's why we've got the tiered approach."
However, the government continues to face warnings from experts about the risks of allowing three households to mix indoors during the festive period.
Stephen Reicher, a member of the Sage advisory committee, said: "Right now we are heading towards disaster.
"Given high levels of infection across the country and the increasing levels in some areas (such as London) it is inevitable that if we all do choose to meet up over Christmas then we will pay the price in the New Year.
"We need an urgent rethink about the Christmas break.
"Government must clarify the risks involved in indoor mixing and stress the fact that households can get together doesn't mean that they should.
"They should provide the information and support to help people make the decisions that best keep themselves, their families and their communities safe.
"And for many of us, the right decision will be to show our love by waiting until we can meet and hug and celebrate without danger."
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