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Covid: Four UK nations discuss joint Christmas approach

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Discussions have taken place about the four nations of the UK taking a joint approach to Covid rules over Christmas.

The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish first ministers held a virtual meeting with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and other senior UK officials.

It was the first of what UK ministers hope will be weekly meetings.

UK government sources said topics including international travel, mass testing and the priority list for vaccinations were also discussed.

Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford and Arlene Foster took part in the meeting, as did Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart and Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis.

Mr Gove said they all recognised families across the UK "want to be able to see their loved ones this Christmas".

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He added: "Today my ministerial colleagues and I met with the devolved administrations to work towards that shared aim and to help ensure that our collective response delivers for the public in every part of the UK".

It is understood government officials will now be considering how to put the desire for a "joint approach to Christmas" into action.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: "The four nations call had an initial discussion about a co-ordinated approach to issues such as travel over the Christmas period and discussed recent developments in testing, including the use of lateral flow testing to enable students to return home, and initial lessons from the Liverpool pilot."

Senior UK ministers have warned the situation remains highly volatile, with different levels of restrictions in different parts of the country and high rates of transmissions across the UK.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said recently that people may not be able to gather like normal in large groups while Ms Sturgeon's most senior public health adviser, Jason Leitch, said last month that people should prepare themselves for a "digital Christmas".

Earlier on Wednesday, a plan was announced to get students in England home safely for Christmas.

Students are to be allocated departure dates during a "student travel window" between 3 and 9 December, to minimise the risk of them spreading Covid-19.

In Wales, they are being asked to travel by 9 December at the latest.

The Scottish government wants as many as possible of the 80,000 or so students going home for Christmas to be offered voluntary tests before they travel.

Northern Ireland is expected to publish plans for students' return in the coming days.

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