Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner
Boris Johnson has been told not to let "everything loose" in the lead-up to Christmas, amid reports families could be allowed to mix during the festive period.
The Daily Telegraph reports that several families could be allowed to join a bubble and to mix between December 22 and 28.
Household mixing is currently subject to harsh restrictions in England under the country’s second lockdown with only support bubbles allowing people from different addresses to mix.
Similar curbs are in force in mainland Scotland, a fresh lockdown will prevent gatherings of more than one household in Northern Ireland from Friday and Wales has rules governing people mixing indoors.
Meanwhile Downing Street insiders have suggested that discussions on what Christmas will look like are still ongoing.
Earlier this week, the prime minister's spokesperson said: "As the PM and others have said, whilst Christmas will be different this year, we will look to relax rules to allow families to have as normal a Christmas as possible. We will set out our plans next week".
But Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said that while infection rates were dropping in all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester and other parts of the North West, the Government should not “let everything loose”.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I would also say to the Government, don’t just go towards Christmas and let everything loose.
“What you need to do is keep a steady approach that will keep the numbers going in the way they are currently going in the North West and in Greater Manchester, and that will relieve the pressures on the NHS come January.”
On Friday, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there were “substantial differences” in Covid-19 infection rates across England, with rates having continued to increase in London, the east of England and the South East, but decreasing in the North West and the East Midlands.
Former chief government scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport told Times Radio there was “something iconic in people’s minds” about Christmas but that it “doesn’t make sense to have big parties” this year.
He added that UK lockdown measures appeared to be working but that people should continue to follow the rules.
“It’s absolutely clear that if you were to stop everything and take the brakes off completely, then infection would start growing again and so the question is what measures will come in after December 2?” he said.
“I’m sure there will need to be continuing measures of some sort.
“Surely now, when there is the prospect of a vaccine, is not the time to give up.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told a Downing Street briefing on Friday it was still too early to say what contact people will be able to have over the festive period.
Mr Hancock said it would be a “boost” for the UK if a “safe, careful and sensible” set of plans could be agreed between the devolved nations.
He said: “Over Christmas I know how important it is that we have a system in place, a set of rules that both keeps people safe but also allows people to see their loved ones.”
Earlier this week, Public Health England said Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) guidance had suggested each day of greater freedom could require five days of tighter measures.
Mr Hancock said he is increasingly hopeful of some kind of normality by spring, as he confirmed the UK’s health regulator is assessing a coronavirus vaccine which could potentially be rolled out next month.
He described the consideration by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as “another important step forward in tackling this pandemic”.
Referring to the “ray of light” that a vaccine may bring, he confirmed he had formally asked the regulator to assess the vaccine and that, if approved, a jab could be rolled out from December.
He said: “If the regulator approves a vaccine, we will be ready to start the vaccination next month, with the bulk of roll-out in the new year.”
It comes as NHS documents seen by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) suggest all adults in England – of any age – could start to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before the end of January if supplies allow.
Under the plan, every adult who wants a jab could be vaccinated by early April.