Just because it is legal to hug relatives at Christmas does not mean you should, Downing Street’s experts have warned.
But the government’s chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser added they would not encourage Britons to embrace old family members.
He insisted there is an ‘escape’ route for areas in the higher levels – only for Prof Whitty immediately to warn Tier 1 is a vain hope.
Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance said they want people to see their families ‘because that is what Christmas is all about’
Answering a question from a journalist at the Downing Street press briefing tonight, Prof Whitty said: ‘Would I want someone to see their family? Of course, that’s what Christmas is all about.
‘But would I encourage someone to hug and kiss their relatives? No I would not. It’s not against the law, and that’s the whole point – you can do it within the rules that are there but it does not make sense because you could be carrying the virus.
‘And if you’ve got an elderly relative that would not be the thing you want to do in a period where we’re running up to a point where we actually might be able to older people.
‘So I think people just have to have sense and I think this is very much what I think people will do.
‘The fact that you can do something, this is true across so many other areas of life, doesn’t mean you should.’
‘In answer to your direct question about what I’ll be doing, actually I will be on the wards.’
Sir Patrick added: ‘To keep numbers down don’t do things that are unnecessary this Christmas, try to make sure you avoid behaviours that would spread the disease.
‘Make sure that if you’re in a house with other households that you’ve got it well ventilated and you take the precautions.
‘Keep distance where you can, it’s the same basic rules we need to apply and I think it’s difficult.
How does government decide what Tiers areas are put into?
Boris Johnson promised to base Tier allocation on ‘common sense’, and the government’s ‘Winter Plan’ set out a series of metrics to be used. They are:
- Case detection rates in all age groups;
- Case detection rates in the over 60s;
- The rate at which cases are rising or falling;
- Positivity rate (the number of positive cases detected as a percentage of tests taken); and
- Pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy.
However, there are no specific numerical trigger points, and the document added that there will be ‘some flexibility to weight these indicators against each other as the context demands’.
‘For example, hospital capacity in a given area will need to be considered in the light of the capacity in neighbouring areas and the feasibility of moving patients,’ the document said.
‘Case detection rates will need to be weighted against whether the spread of the virus appears to be localised to particular communities.’
‘It’s not going to be a normal Christmas, but if you want to make those connections with family it has to be done in a way in which you try to make sure you don’t increase the risk of, I think Chris said the risk of hugging elderly relatives is not something to go out and do.
‘It will increase the spread to the vulnerable population.’ Prof Whitty added: ‘It wants to survive to hunt again.’
Elsewhere in the briefing the PM insisted the Tier system will be less ‘intrusive’ than the blanket lockdown that it is intended to replace from December 2.
He stressed there was a mechanism for areas that manage to bring down their infection rates to have curbs eased.
‘Your tier is not your destiny, every area has the means of escape,’ the Prime Minister said.
But Prof Whitty struck a very different tone, suggesting there is little chance of anyone going down to Tier 1 as restrictions are so lax that inevitably cases rise.
The chief medical officer said it was only possible for places that currently have extremely low case rates. He said adjustments to the Tiers would only be ‘primarily’ downwards.
Seizing on the contradiction, Tory MP Mark Harper tweeted: ‘That rather suggests if you’re in Tier 2, it is your destiny – at least until the Spring.’
Under the allocations announced today, just 700,000 people – one per cent of the population – will be subject to the loosest grade of restrictions. Before November 5 there were 29million in the lowest tier.
Meanwhile, around 55million residents will be in the toughest two levels after the blanket national lockdown ends on December 2.
It has sparked a huge backlash, with anger at the lack of firm thresholds for entering and leaving Tiers, and many local MPs in low-infection areas enraged at being lumped together with nearby hotspots.
The government has published a narrative explanation of why each area is going into each tier, but has dismissed calls to use numerical trigger points.
A slew of senior Tories have threatened to rebel in a crunch vote on the plans next week.