Christmas Covid rules 'not an instruction to meet up'

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Media caption,
People in Cardiff share their views on the relaxation of Covid-19 rules over Christmas

An agreement to relax Covid rules over Christmas is not "an instruction to meet with other people", Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

Three households from around the UK will be able to meet from 23 December until at least 27 December.

It follows an agreement between the UK government and ministers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Mr Drakeford said he believed people would be unwilling to stick to "strict rules" over the Christmas period.

It comes as Welsh ministers consider whether more restrictions will be needed in the run up to Christmas, as cases rise among the under-25s.

The first minister called for a "common approach" to dealing with the aftermath of Christmas - earlier he warned that relaxing rules would lead to an "inevitable" rise in coronavirus.

Welsh Conservatives welcomed the agreement, but Plaid Cymru warned that "hard-gotten gains" must not be lost "for the sake of a few days".

'Controlled'

Mr Drakeford told BBC Wales: "If we ask people just to stick to the strict rules we have now I'm afraid lots of people will not be prepared to do that.

"So it's not a choice between relaxation or no relaxation.

"It's having a form of relaxation where there are rules that people will recognise that will allow people to enjoy Christmas, but we'll do it in a controlled way."

The Welsh Labour leader added: "People will be allowed to do what the law will allow them to do, but this is not an instruction to travel, it's not an instruction to meet with other people.

"People should still use a sense of responsibility, should still ask themselves whether what they are doing is keeping themselves and other people safe."

Media caption,
Mark Drakeford: "We will have a modest period of relaxation"

Under the agreement, made at a meeting of Cobra on Tuesday afternoon:

  • Travel restrictions will be eased to provide a window for households to come together
  • Up to three households can form an exclusive "bubble" to meet at home during the period
  • Bubble's must be fixed "and must not be changed or extended further"
  • Each Christmas bubble can meet at home, at a place of worship or an outdoor public place

The agreement said that "existing, more restrictive" rules on pubs and restaurants, and meeting in other venues will be maintained.

Ministers have been considering tighter restrictions in Wales in the run up to the festive period.

"The cabinet will meet before the end of this week again," the first minister said. "If we're in a position to make an announcement this week, then that's what we will do."

He added: "Where does coronavirus spread? It's spread in people's homes, it spreads in hospitals and it spreads in hospitality.

"We have to think about all three of those settings and do our very best to bear down on the virus, which spreads so fast if it's given an opportunity."

Vaccines and mass testing are "not going to come to our rescue in January", the first minister added.

"There is still a pull through to the spring before we will see the real benefit of those things, and we are going to have to ask people to go on living with the virus, living with it sensibly, living with it in a way that limits the damage while we are bringing those new possibilities, fully on stream."

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Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Three households will be able to "bubble" for the Christmas period

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said a "compassionate but responsible approach" was "sensible", but said the Welsh Government "has a responsibility to ensure clear communication over the festive period, encouraging people to follow the guidelines".

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader Paul Davies welcomed the decision and said it showed "what can be achieved when governments work together".

Simon Hart, the UK government's Welsh Secretary, said he was delighted with the agreement, but urged people "to continue to be careful and responsible over the Christmas period to keep themselves and their families safe".

The broad questions about Christmas have been answered, but plenty of questions remain about what happens before and after.

Mark Drakeford has said repeatedly that the festive relaxation will lead to more Covid cases and "payback" will be needed.

Does that mean a tightening of the rules in the run up to Christmas? Probably.

Could they be introduced to coincide with the new regime starting in England on 2 December? That would continue the theme of a communal UK approach.

And while talk of vaccines and mass testing have given us hope for a better 2021, how quickly can they be rolled out to the general population?

Whatever the calendar says, January could still feel very 2020.