Christmas is “not worth the risk”, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned, appealing to the public to stay home over the festive period.
Thirty-eight million people in England – more than two-thirds of the total population – will be living under tier 3 restrictions from Saturday as the government attempts to stem rising infections.
But just four days later the tier restrictions will drop until December 28 and up to three households will legally be able to ‘bubble’ in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland over Christmas. The number of households legally permitted in Wales has dropped to two.
Amid a worrying rise in Covid-19 cases, the WHO has said that “the safest thing to do right now is to remain at home”.
The organisation’s regional director for Europe Dr Hans Kluge said: “There remains a difference between what you are being permitted to do by your authorities and what you should do.”
In a statement, he said: “We have a few more months of sacrifice ahead and can behave now in a way that collectively we are proud of. When we look back at these unprecedented times, I hope we all felt we acted with a spirit of shared humanity to protect those in need.”
His words follow a press conference led by Boris Johnson on Wednesday, during which the PM urged the public to have a smaller Christmas than the rules allow, calling on everyone to “to exercise extreme caution” and the “greatest possible personal responsibility”.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), warned on Friday that relaxing coronavirus restrictions over Christmas could lead to an “unrelenting tsunami” of cases.
“After a difficult year, it is everybody’s instinct to want to be together and see loved ones – especially those who live far apart or feel isolated. But what is at stake is coming into sharp focus,” she said.
“Travelling and family visits associated with this time of year will undoubtedly lead to more cases, more pressure on NHS and care services, and more deaths. By turning the second and third waves into an unrelenting tsunami, we would begin 2021 in the worst possible way.”
She said nurses would not enjoy Christmas “knowing what awaits them in January” and called on the government to be “clearer about the risks – not just the rules”, warning: “This virus isn’t taking Christmas off and nor should we.”
Dr Kluge said the pandemic’s “devastation” had hit communities across Europe.
“Covid-19 has forced families and communities apart, bankrupted businesses, and deprived people of opportunities that a year ago were taken for granted,” he said.
“From anxieties around virus transmission, the psychological impact of lockdowns and self-isolation, to the effects of unemployment, financial worries and social exclusion – the mental health impact of the pandemic will be long term and far reaching.
“What has resulted is a growing mental health crisis in Europe.”