Lockdown relaxation for Christmas causes COVID-19 scare in UK

The British government on Tuesday appeared to be holding out against calls to reassess its plans to ease coronavirus restrictions over the Christmas period following a spike in new cases that will see tougher rules imposed on London.

With the number of new cases rising at an exponential rate in many parts of the country, there are growing concerns that the planned limited relaxation of restrictions next week will see a further escalation in infections and additional pressure on the National Health Service in the new year.

The British government, which devises the public health strategy for England, along with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, agreed last month to allow a maximum of three households to mix between Dec. 23 and Dec. 27, regardless of what local restrictions are in place in the areas where they live.

There are a myriad of restrictions across the UK, largely based on the prevalence of the virus in geographic areas, limiting the number of people allowed to gather both inside and out of the home.

London will join other major cities in England, including Birmingham and Manchester, in the highest level of restrictions - so-called Tier 3 - on Wednesday.

This will involve, among other new restrictions, the closure of pubs and restaurants apart from takeouts and deliveries and the banning of anyone meeting someone else from another household. People living in Tier 3 areas, which from Wednesday will be the majority of the population of England, are not allowed to meet socially in a private garden or at most outdoor public venues with anybody they do not live with.

With restrictions being tightened in many parts of the country, questions are being raised about the wisdom of allowing a relaxation around Christmas. That's particularly true in Wales, where infections have risen especially fast over the past few weeks.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan was among those calling on the government to look again at the easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas.

"The concern is this - the rules have been relaxed for five days, allowing household mixing for up to three different households and inevitably when people are in their own households, they tend to be less vigilant," he told BBC Radio.

"And my concern is that many people may have the virus and not realise it. They could pass the virus on to older relations." So far, the British government is resisting changing course, but the message around Christmas gatherings appears to have been finessed.

Stephen Barclay, a Treasury minister, said it's about "finding the right balance" of seeking to avoid criminalizing people while at the same time reminding everyone of the risks.

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