Large gatherings could be banned at Christmas, UK minister admits

Simon Murphy Political correspondent
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Katie Collins/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Katie Collins/Alamy

Families will be prevented from having large Christmas gatherings if it is deemed necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19, a cabinet minister has said.

The environment secretary, George Eustice, said it was too early to outline exactly what restrictions would be in place over the festive season, but admitted that families would be banned from “coming together in large gatherings” if needed.

A letter from the Liberal Democrats’ leader, Ed Davey, the party’s Scottish and Welsh leaders and the Alliance party deputy leader in Northern Ireland has called for a “four nations summit” to agree on uniform guidance for families at Christmas.

The letter to the four UK governments, which have each been setting their own restrictions, says: “We must accept the inevitability that people are going to travel to be with their loved ones during the festive time of year.”

In areas of England under tier 1 measures, people must abide by the rule of six indoors, but in other areas social mixing between households inside is not allowed except where support bubbles have been formed.

More than 8 million people in England are expected to be under the strictest tier of restrictions by the end of the week, and if the situation continues then many extended families will not be able to spend Christmas under one roof.

The number of coronavirus-linked deaths in the UK passed 60,000 on Tuesday, and the daily toll rose above 200 weeks earlier than predicted.

Eustice, when asked on LBC radio whether he agreed that police would have to break up parties for Christmas or Diwali, the Hindu festival that is two weeks away, said: “We want people to live and have Christmas as close as possible to normal. It’s a really important family time, we understand that … The prime minister said he wants us to be able to enjoy Christmas and for families to be able to come together.

“It’s too early to say though exactly what restrictions will be in place by Christmas and obviously if we do need to have restrictions in place and prevent families from coming together in large gatherings, if that’s necessary to control the virus, that’s what we’ll have to do.”

Pressed on whether he would have to support it if necessary, he replied: “Well, if necessary, we will have to put regulations in place, yes, but we want to make sure that people can enjoy Christmas and come together as families still, but it may not be in quite sort of large gatherings that some people would normally experience.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Eustice said: “We should set our guidelines, not as the Lib Dems say based on Christmas is coming, we should set our guidelines based on the epidemiology of this virus and follow the science and respond to emerging situations in a proportionate way.

“And that’s what we’re doing, and it’s too early I’m afraid to say exactly what the situation will be by Christmas, but we do understand people want to have a Christmas that’s as close as possible to normal and to meet family and come together.”

On Tuesday the TV presenter Victoria Derbyshire issued an apology after saying she planned to defy the law on social gatherings to celebrate with her family at Christmas.