NOW Brits could have to suffer 25 days of tighter restrictions to pay for five days with family over Christmas, after a PHE boss made a mistake.
Dr Susan Hopkins told a Downing Street briefing we would need "two days of tighter measures" for every day we ease lockdown after December 2. But this afternoon PHE said it was actually five days, not two.
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So instead of 10 days of lockdown to pay for five days over Christmas, as was earlier suggested, it would actually amount to 25 days of added pain.
Referring to previous advice from Sage scientists, Dr Hopkins said "every day we release we need two days of tighter restrictions", to reduce the number of contacts we have.
But the correction pointed out: "At the press conference this morning when the panel were asked about Christmas plans, in answering, Susan Hopkins referred to 'Sage advice previously' as showing that for every one day of 'release' two days of tighter restrictions would be needed.
"She misspoke here, the Sage advice actually referred to modelling indicating that for every one day of relaxation five days of tighter restrictions would potentially be needed."
It comes as The Sun today revealed plans being considered to save the nation's Christmas that could allow families to enjoy a five-day free pass to celebrate together.
With Christmas Eve falling on a Thursday and a planned Bank Holiday for Monday December 28, ministers are zeroing in on that five-day weekend for a short lifting of a ban on gathering in homes.
At a Downing Street briefing today Angela McLean, deputy chief scientific officer, said Sage scientists have been modelling the impact of groups bigger than six meeting up.
'Christmas IS possible'
But while PHE boss Dr Susan Hopkins said Christmas "is possible", she warned it could come at a price.
She said harder measures could be needed before and after Christmas to make up for the five days of festive freedom.
Dr Hopkins said: "We are keen to have Christmas as close to normal as possible, but that will require every effort now and in early December to get cases as low as possible to reduce transmission."
It comes as:
- Christmas could be saved with new rules which would allow households to mix indoors for five days
- Dr Hilary blasts plans for a 5-day lockdown break over Christmas
- Top docs plead with Government to ban travel across tiers and enforce 'rule of two' at Christmas
- We reveal all you need to know about Covid vaccines
- Local leaders reveal Covid hotspots that face toughest new measures under new tiered system
Dr Hopkins said she was "hopeful" that the government would make a decision that allowed families to mix over the festive period.
She said: "So, coming into Christmas we need to be very careful about the number of contacts that we have, to reduce transmission before Christmas and get our cases as low as possible.
"Hopefully the Government will make the decision that will allow us to have some mixing, but we will wait and see what that is.
"Then, I think, once we have got past the Christmas period if there has been a release and some socialisation we will all have to be very responsible and reduce those contacts again."
Addressing the Government's plans for Christmas, Dame Angela McLean said: "We did send some advice in over the weekend.
"But we genuinely don't know what decisions have been made."
Asked whether households mixing could be allowed if there were other trade-offs, she added: "What's really important is we go into a festive week, when we want to mix with our friends and our family, with the number of infections in the community as low as possible."
No10 confirmed last night: “We are looking at ways to ensure that people can spend time with close family over Christmas at the end of what has been an incredibly difficult year.”
But Business Secretary Alok Sharma has said it is "too early" to know whether social distancing restrictions could be eased around Christmas.
Asked about reports that measures could be relaxed for five days, he told BBC Breakfast: "I want to have my mum and dad around, I want to have members of my family around that Christmas table.
"I just think it's too early to be reaching any conclusions on that. What none of us knows right now is what the infection rate is going to be in different parts of the country."
R rate is falling
Dame Angela said the spread of Covid is best judged by the R rate, which on Friday was updated.
It showed the R rate had fallen and now sits between 1 and 1.2.
She said a lag in the data used to calculate the R rate – the measure of how many people an infectious person will infect – means it could take a couple of weeks to show the effect of lockdown.
"The R number was quite high in late September and earlyOctober and it was between 1.2 -1.5," Dame Angela said.
"It has been falling but not yet below 1.
"It's important for progress that it should fall below 1, only then will infections be falling."
While the R rate has fallen, Dr Hopkins said that there has been an increase in excess mortality in recent weeks.
She added: "This is clearly concerning and this is clearly one of the reasons why the national restrictions had to come into play."
Dame Angela added that the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in the community had risen steeply in September and October but had now slowed down.
Some areas with high levels of infection had already started to see a drop before the lockdown was brought in on November 5, she added.
"What you see is, even before national restrictions were brought in, in the parts of the country where the amount of infections was already very high the progress of the epidemic had already flattened off – that's the North West and Yorkshire and Humber.
"Those also happen to include the parts of the country that were under Tier 3 restrictions, so that's good news that some parts of the country have already flattened off."
Dr Hopkins this morning said that ministers are working on what the "new tiers" will be after the anticipated easing date for lockdown and on a plan for Christmas.
She said it's a decision that will be made by the government.
Some experts have however warned that healthcare workers are "frightened" by the prospect of households mixing during the festive period.
Steve Crump, CEO of the Healthcare Workers Foundation said the decision would be "totally irresponsible".
He said: "Rumours that we may all be able to mix in bubbles of two or three households over the Christmas period are frightening to hear. A move to allow this would be the wrong decision and totally irresponsible.
“The idea of mixing up to three households when there is still no sign of the virus slowing down is unthinkable. We have to look at the bigger picture and the huge pressure already on the NHS."
He added that experts should "think twice" before making any decisions that would create lasting impacts on the health service.
Get through the winter
Earlier this week Dr Hopkins warned a tougher tier system would likely replace national shutdown after December 2.
She said: "We see very little effect from Tier 1. When we look at what the Tiers may be in the future, we will have to think about strengthening them in order to get us through the winter months.
She suggested that "if the lockdown is working, we will start to see cases decline over the next week".
If it doesn't, then lifting the rules in full would be at risk, she added.
Data revealed at the press conference today did however show people appear to be following the new rules.
Slides shown by the experts revealed that people had been travelling less and that less people had also been out shopping.
Data from Google Mobility highlighted that people had been spending more time at home and in outdoor spaces such as parks.
Dame Angela also stated that 98 per cent of adults were wearing face coverings if they were outside of their home and that more people had been working from home.
She also stated that 89 per cent of people are now washing their hands with soap and water when they return to their home address after being outside.
Dame Angela said that it is not yet possible to see the full effect of the national lockdown.
The lockdown replaced the tier system which had been introduced alongside contact tracing measures.
This week is was revealed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well as Test and Trace boss Dido Harding had to self-isolate after being pinged by the app.
Dr Powis also had to attend the briefing virtually today due to contact tracing rules.
Dr Hopkins said that every lower tier local authority will have local contact tracing in place by the end of November.
"NHS Test and Trace has increased its testing capacity, that has been a very important intervention and that has allowed us to try and work on decreasing turnaround times for those people who get tested," she told the Downing Street data briefing on Covid-19.
"We're also working very hard with local authorities to enhance the contact tracing system and by the end of this month, almost every lower tier local authority will have local contact tracing in place so that's really allowed us to step up.
"Right now, with almost 30,000 cases a day across the UK, we are managing to contact over 100,000 people per day."
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