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Business Secretary responds to reports that Covid-19 restrictions will be eased over Christmas

Business Secretary Alok Sharma has addressed the reports that up to 10 people will be able to gather over the festive period.

Responding to Susanna's request for clarification about whether people will be given a five day break over Christmas, Mr Sharma said: "Can I be clear on this point? What we have said is that we will come out of national restrictions in England on the 2nd of December. We will then go into the tiering system. We will set out closer to the 2nd of December how precisely this will work. I do think that at this stage none of us can predict where this infection is going to go, particularly in different parts of the country. I think it’s too early to talk about precisely where we might be at Christmas."

Revealing that he would like to spend Christmas with his family, Mr Sharma added: "But of course, I want to have as normal a Christmas as possible. I want to have members of my family around that Christmas table, your viewers will want the same as well. The best way of making sure we have that is to bear down on this virus. We have managed to get the infection rate down… we need to keep doing all the basic things… and then let’s see where we get to. I think we all accept that this is not a normal year by any stretch of the imagination but I hope there will be some form of normality as we get to Christmas but I think it is too early to say.”

He went on: “Christmas is a time of year when families come together irrespective of their denomination for a holiday. I personally am a Hindu, my wife is a Christian. We celebrate at Christmas. I don’t think this is anything about a particular religion but it is a time of holiday for lots of people and they want to come together with their families and we want to have some normality, but I think it’s too early to say.”

Mr Sharma added: “We have always been level with the British public, press conference after press conference, we as cabinet ministers have stood up and made the point that we will do whatever it takes to keep safe.”

During the interview, Mr Sharma was pressed on the death toll in the UK and the number of excess deaths.

"I think we all accept that every single death is a tragedy. The figure of 50,000 is calculated on people who died in the last 28 days had Covid. Those are the statistics we are using. These are compiled by the government and of course, you talk about additional figures and I am sure that will be looked at but the key point here is it is a tragedy that people have sadly lost their lives. But of course, that’s why it’s so important we all do our bit to get this infection under control," he told Piers and Susanna.

He continued: “I don’t think it’s a question of hiding anything and not being transparent, we are being transparent. We set out the basis on which that number is calculated. Of course, if people are suggesting other calculations of course that needs to be looked at… There are a set of figures, we have explained how those are calculated…”

On testing, he said: “Of course, we started with very low levels of testing. There was no diagnostic industry in this country, we have built that up significantly, testing more people now than anywhere else in the world.”

"Look the Health Secretary, in fact, everyone who is part of that department, has been working incredibly hard and of course in the fullness of time we will all have to look back and see how we could have done things better, I completely accept that. But right now what’s important is that we get this infection under control, we make sure we are in a position to deploy vaccines if they indeed prove to be effective… to make sure we roll out the testing we have got going on in terms of rapid testing," he added.

Asked about the number of people have been tested, he replied: “What I can tell you is that there were 234,000 tests that were actually processed and there are ten of thousands of people who have been through rapid tests in Liverpool and of course, we are looking to roll that out further across other areas as well. I have given you the facts, I said to you at least 10 million people in our country have had one test throughout this process.”

On the subject of the ‘excluded’ who are not eligible for furlough schemes, he said: “As you know we have supported 12 million jobs in the furlough system, that will continue until March… we are also supporting just under 3 million people with the self-employment support grant as well… I am extremely sorry if we have not been able to help every single person…"

He said there would be a range of reasons why some people would not be included in the schemes. Mr Sharma was also pressed on PPE and wastes of government money.

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