Covid: Hancock says easing of Christmas rules will not be changed but urges public to take 'personal responsibility'

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

People have been urged to be "cautious" this Christmas as Health Secretary Matt Hancock refused to comment on whether there were any circumstances in which the relaxation of Covid rules over the festive period would be re-assessed.

Earlier, Mr Hancock announced all 32 boroughs of Greater London and the City of London, along with parts of Essex and Hertfordshire, will move into the highest tier of Covid-19 restrictions from 00:01 on Wednesday after "very sharp, exponential rises" of coronavirus in the past week.

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston on whether Covid Christmas rules will change

He also announced a new variant of the virus had been detected, which may explain the faster spread of the virus in the south.

Speaking during a government Covid briefing on Monday, Mr Hancock said: “Our messages around Christmas are really clear. We understand why people want to see their loved ones, especially at this time of year, especially after this year.

“But it must be done in a way that is careful and responsible, and I think people understand that too.

“If you are planning to meet up with loved ones at Christmas, then being careful now, two weeks ahead, making sure you minimise the chance of both catching the disease and passing it on is the right thing to do – actually, that’s the right thing to do all the time.”

London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire will move into Tier 3 from Wednesday. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

While he did not explicitly tell people to self-isolate from now if they want to see elderly relatives at Christmas, Mr Hancock did say people should be “extremely careful” about who they see in the run-up.

Appearing alongside Mr Hancock, England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty also reiterated the need for people to be cautious at Christmas.

He said people should not meet just because they can.

“The point of this (relaxation of rules) is for, under certain circumstances, families who wish to, to get together, but they really have to be very, very careful," he said.

“And in particular, incredibly careful if they’re around people who are vulnerable, who are at very high risk of this virus."

Matt Hancock during the briefing: there are no plans to review guidance on household mixing over Christmas Credit: PA

He said the measures were aimed at “striking a balance”, as he acknowledged Christmas posed a risk, stating: “But, of course it’s a period of risk.

“And, that’s the reason we want people to take it very seriously and go no further than they have to.”

Earlier, speaking in the Commons, Mr Hancock also revealed a new strain of virus had been discovered that could be contributing to the "very sharp, exponential rises" of Covid-19 in the past week.

Experts have warned it is too early to be worried about a new variant of coronavirus, or make any claims about the potential impact of the virus mutation.

Speaking on Monday evening, Prof Whitty said: “There has been a lot of analysis done over the last few days to work out what it means in terms of vaccines.”

He added: “There’s nothing to suggest that the symptoms are different, that the testing is different or the clinical outcome is different for this variant.

“The main reason we are raising this to people’s attention is the question about whether this is spreading more quickly. It may be ’cause and effect’, or it may not.”

He added that coronavirus will be with us “for the foreseeable future” and will continue to produce mutations over time, but many of those will simply die out.