England could face a 'digital Christmas' as Covid restrictions are 'likely to stay for a while', Vallance says

Covid restrictions will need to be in place for a while, Vallance said. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The government’s chief scientific adviser has not ruled out a "digital Christmas" in England due to social restrictions that "will need to be in place for a while".

Sir Patrick Vallance told a Downing Street press conference that the prospect of families spending Christmas together depended on whether coronavirus cases could be driven down over the coming weeks.

Tier 2 and 3 restrictions would ban families from different households or support bubbles from mixing indoors on Christmas Day, while people living in Tier 1 areas would not be able to meet in groups of more than six people from outside their household.

It comes as residents in Scotland have been urged to prepare for a “digital Christmas”, after a senior medical advisor to Nicola Sturgeon warned that large family gatherings would be “fiction” this year.

Covid tiers: - What are the differences between each alert level?

  • Medium (Tier 1) - Rule of six applies indoors and outdoors. Pubs and restaurants close at 10pm.

  • High (Tier 2) - Households must not mix indoors in any setting including pubs and restaurants. Rule of six applies outdoors

  • Very high (Tier 3) - Households must not mix indoors, or in private gardens. Rule of six applies in outdoor spaces including parks. Pubs and bars which don't serve meals will be closed

When asked whether the outlook was the same for festivities in England, Sir Patrick said that the Covid-19 case numbers “speak for themselves”.

Coronavirus cases are rising sharply in England, particularly in the North East and North West, putting pressure on hospital resources.

Sir Patrick told the briefing: “They’re (infection rates) increasing and they’re not going to decrease quickly.

“I think it’s likely that some measures or restrictions are going to need to be in place for a while to try and get those numbers down.

“Obviously, the quicker you get the R below one, the quicker numbers come down.

“And so a lot depends on what happens now over the next few weeks.

“At the moment, the numbers are heading in the wrong direction, but there’s some signs in some places of a potential flattening off of that, and we need to wait and see and monitor the numbers very very carefully.”

The R rate is currently between 1.2 and 1.5, with the number of cases “doubling every 14 to 18 days”, according to Sir Patrick.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at the daily Scottish Government briefing  if it were Christmas tomorrow, she'd have some pretty harsh words to say to people. 

“I want us to be able to celebrate Christmas as normally as it is possible to do within the context of a global pandemic," Ms Sturgeon said.

“My message to people is that the more we all stick with these really difficult restrictions right now, the more chance there will be of us doing that.

“Some of the really tough additional things the government is deciding right now, restrictions on hospitality for example and any other restrictions we feel necessary to put in place, will also be in part about trying to deal decisively with an upsurge in the virus now so we give ourselves the best chance of greater normality at Christmas."

National clinical director Professor Jason Leitch told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Thursday that “people should get their digital Christmas ready”.

He said: “Christmas is not going to be normal, there is absolutely no question about that.

“We’re not going to have large family groupings with multiple families around, that is fiction for this year.

“I am hopeful, if we can get the numbers down to a certain level, we may be able to get some form of normality.”