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more expert comment on lifting of restrictions over Christmas

A lot of journalists were asking for scientists’ responses to the Christmas plans, so here are a few more.


Prof Peter Openshaw, Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London, said:

“I do hope that people will not let caution evaporate over the Christmas period, and think that a short break from restrictions will be fine. It really won’t. I urge everyone to maintain precautions and to be inventive and ingenious in devising ways to meet up in safety. Close personal contact is the main way this virus transmits and it should be possible to celebrate without letting the virus spread.

“Meet outdoors if possible, wear masks if you can’t maintain safe distance, wash your hands and use gel. Feeling well does not guarantee that you don’t have the virus: kissing your grandparents may be delivering a deadly dose of virus. Be pleased to see them but keep a safe distance.”


Dr Julian Tang, Honorary Associate Professor/Clinical Virologist, University of Leicester, said:

“There is a risk of a third wave in Jan 2021 if we relax too much at Christmas.

“Most people in the country are still susceptible to the virus and any mixing will just give the virus a chance to spread further.

“I agree that we all need a break and Christmas is one of the most important holidays we have – but just for this year, we should try to restrain ourselves, to suppress the virus as much as possible and keep it suppressed until we can roll out the vaccines at a large-scale later, to protect the most vulnerable first.

“For some, this year’s Christmas contact will be very important – perhaps more so than in other years. But if the rest of us who can tolerate a ‘Zoom’ Christmas can do this to reduce the transmission risk for those who can’t, this will also reduce the virus spread for that bit longer, which will help all of us – and hopefully prevent a New Year third wave and possibly another national lockdown.”


Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology, University of Reading, said:

“A third wave of coronavirus infections in early 2021 is quite likely, given what we know about transmission and spread of respiratory tract viruses around that time of year.  Whether it actually happens or not will depend to some extent on how effective the upcoming restrictions are and on how well people observe them. 

“Other factors, like the weather, may also be important.  While we might normally expect a cold snap to exacerbate transmission, a heavy winter with snow on the ground could keep people in their homes and enforce social distancing in a different way.  It’s important to note that a third wave is not inevitable – the United States had a summer outbreak in infections which didn’t happen in the UK, presumably because the restrictions had enough of an effect to keep a lid on things.”


Dr Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds, said:

“It is completely understandable that people are frustrated and tired of restrictions as this second resurgence of the virus was completely avoidable. However, given our present situation, sanctioning such wide scale mixing is likely to lead to severe consequences. It seems a similar policy as seen over the summer is in play, where we are told that restrictions are lifted but at the same time that we must all take personal responsibility for our actions. Whilst some may take the view that this a welcome move away from a so-called “nanny state”, the evidence from the past few months shows clearly that such measures lead to dramatic increases in infections. Such messaging not only leads to confusion, but could also be construed as a convenient means by which to absolve policy makers of responsibility should consequences prove unfavourable.

“We have had a period of unusually good news with the announcement of positive vaccine trials. However, we must remember that these are interim analyses and we still face the mammoth task of vaccinating our population, with barriers including vaccine denial, logistics, effectiveness in key populations, and cost. We must not allow this relief to translate into complacency over the coming months.

“We must remember that we are back in the dreadful position where hundreds of people are dying on a daily basis across the country. It remains to be seen how effective this short, relatively light-touch lockdown has been in preventing the growth of the epidemic, and how the tiers will cope in times to follow; the immediate impression is of a slowing, rather than a reversal of infections.

“In addition to Christmas announcements, the other revelations this week regarding sporting events and other social interactions again seem in stark contrast to the clinical reality of the UK at present.

“It would be reassuring to hear a clear new strategy regarding what the Government are seeking to achieve through the current measures – are we seeking to once again suppress this epidemic, or are we simply treading water until the vaccines arrive in abundance? It is clear that the second option will continue to cost far more in terms of lives lost and long term morbidity resulting from COVID-19.”


Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, said: 

“I would encourage as limited mixing of households as possible. It is important that vulnerable population, such as elderly relatives, do have contact with family and friends before, during and after Christmas, but any form of contact should be carefully thought through and be as limited as possible. The rewards will come in the new year, when hopefully we will have vaccines deployed and can begin to reduce the restrictions we have experienced this year.”


Prof Rowland Kao, the Sir Timothy O’Shea Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Increased contact will result in increased risks, and we have to be very aware of this potential to expose more individuals to COVID-19. This is a particular concern because mixing over the holiday period likely involves combinations of people that would not otherwise be in contact, including increased contact between age groups. Additional unpredictability will arise due to the reduction in quarantine after travel, which also has the potential to introduce substantial new outbreaks in areas which currently have fewer cases. So there are many reasons to be especially watchful over the Christmas period.

“However, counterbalancing this is the need to account for factors of human behaviour; in particular if there is a safety valve which allows some of the social interactions that are important to very many people in a controlled manner, it could prevent increased activity that would occur in a less moderated way. In this sense it is a sensible approach but the onus of course, is then on individuals to interpret those relaxations responsibly. Thus not only is a ‘third wave’ is not at all inevitable (though reductions do have to be counterbalanced by reductions in transmission, preferably before the relaxations), controlled relaxation of measures for a short period, may result in fewer cases overall than not allowing this.”



All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:



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