MATT Hancock today admitted the new lockdown rules banning groups of more than six could be still in place at Christmas – but he hoped for them to be scrapped by then.
A new rule banning gatherings of more than six will come into effect from Monday after a rise in coronavirus cases, and will stay in place “for the foreseeable future”, he said earlier.
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The Health Secretary insisted it was too early to be thinking about the winter holiday period at the moment but it was possible the rules could be in place in December.
Boris Johnson will today tell the nation that in order to curb the recent spike in coronavirus cases he will ban all gatherings of more than six people – with exceptions for workplaces, weddings, schools and funerals.
He is expected to give a press conference at around 4pm, and anyone caught in a group will face a minimum of £100 fine.
Mr Hancock was asked on Radio 1’s Newsbeat if the rules will still be in place for Christmas.
And he replied: “Potentially beyond. I’d like to be able to relax them before Christmas, obviously…”
He was then asked if that would mean families couldn’t celebrate together as usual.
The Health Secretary replied: “not necessarily and this is one of the problems of the virus.”
Mr Hancock added on BBC Radio 4: “I really hope we can turn this around before Christmas.
“We clearly need to act.”
It came as:
Even in the groups of six, people who do not live together should stay 2m apart if they can.
The rule – which now applies inside and outside – was made to try and make it simpler to understand, and to crack down on people who aren’t following the guidelines.
Last week Mr Hancock sparked hopes the nation could have a ‘normal’ Christmas with hugs and family gatherings – if mass testing works or a vaccine is found.
The Health Secretary said he would love to promise a Christmas that everyone was “yearning” for but couldn’t make any firm vows.
He urged the nation to “pull together” and stick to social distancing.
“And maybe, just maybe we can have that Christmas everyone wants us to see.”
But he later said a vaccine was not likely until the new year.
The rise in the number of positive tests in the last week has alarmed the Government.
The UK saw two days of almost 3,000 new cases followed by 2,420 yesterday.
However, experts say the numbers of people testing positive across the UK shouldn’t be compared to the height of the pandemic – because so many more tests are being done.
When the disease peaked in March and April, rationed testing meant that at times more than 40 per cent of test results were positive.
This has since plummeted to just 2.3 per cent in the community and 0.5 per cent in hospitals.
However, many Brits have reported being unable to get a test this week – partly blamed on lab capacity problems.
Mr Hancock also suggested that mass gatherings could be banned – ust hours before they were due to kick off again.
A few thousand people are due to attend races in Doncaster today as part of a trial.
If it goes well, then stadiums and other bigger events may be allowed to open in the coming weeks.
But Mr Hancock poured cold water on the suggestion today.
He told BBC Breakfast when asked: “The PM is going to set out more details of the consequences of the new rule for six people gathering later today.
“We will set out what it means for some of these events we are planning to do.”
And he expressed concern about grandparents catching the virus from their grandkids now schools were back.
Mr Hancock warned: “That is actually a very serious problem in terms of the spread of the disease.
“While children are hardly affected in terms of getting ill, we know they can transmit the disease, that older people are more likely to die, and most grandparents are older, they are more likely to die from the disease…
“Especially with schools back, the transmission of the disease from children is one of the things we are quite worried about clinically.”
Some have been diverted miles away and others are being told there aren’t any available in their area, despite the rise in the number of tests available.
The PM will announce the 6-person rule changes at Downing Street today with chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
He is expected to say: “We need to act now to stop the virus spreading. So we are simplifying and strengthening the rules on social contact — making them easier to understand and for the police to enforce.
“It is absolutely critical people now abide by these rules and remember the basics — washing hands, covering your face, keeping space from others, and getting a test if you have symptoms.”
Health Secretary Mr Hancock yesterday warned MPs that the UK was on the brink of a second Covid peak.
He said Britain has seen a “concerning rise” in coronavirus infections which could lead to more deaths in just a matter of weeks.
He went on: “Each and every citizen has a responsibility to follow social distancing and help stop a second peak.”