Health Secretary Matt Hancock appears to rule out hugging at Christmas

Matt Hancock has appeared to rule out hugging relatives and friends at Christmas, as he said there were “promising signs” the current lockdown in England is working.

The Health Secretary said rules would still need to be in place over the festive period, with people observing social distancing as families come together.

But he said it was the Government’s plan to allow people to meet up after what had been a “terrible year”.

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Speaking on Times Radio, Mr Hancock said discussions with the devolved nations are continuing with the aim of reaching agreement on how people can celebrate the festive period.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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He said there was a need to “respect the fact that we mustn’t spread the virus further but also respect the fact that Christmas is a special time where people get together, especially with their families”.

Mr Hancock added: “It’s about getting the balance right and allowing people to have a Christmas that undoubtedly will be different this year but still try to have that cherished Christmas with your family as much as possible.

“What we want to have is a set of rules that is, if at all possible, consistent across the four nations of the UK, not least because so many people travel to see their family at Christmas time, but also respects the fact that we must follow social distancing to keep the virus under control.”

He said he had “no doubt” that people would continue to follow the rules in order to keep coronavirus case numbers down.

“I’ve got no doubt that people will continue to respect social distancing throughout because we know that that is so important for full control of the virus,” he said.

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Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Hancock said this Christmas “won’t be fully normal”, adding “there will have to be rules, unfortunately, to keep the virus under control”.

But he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that while 2020 had been “such a difficult year”, there were signs the current lockdown in England is working.

“There are promising signs that we have seen a flattening of the number of cases since lockdown was brought in and that is good news, though clearly there is further to go,” he said.

“I’m calling it a flattening rather than a fall because one swallow doesn’t make a summer, but there are promising signs that lockdown is working to get the number of cases under control.”

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Dismissing the idea that it should be up to families to decide their own rules for Christmas, Mr Hancock said people could pass the virus on without knowing it.

But he added: “Christmas is a special time of year and we’ve had such a difficult year in 2020 – it has been such a terrible year and having some hope, some joy at Christmas, I know that would be welcomed by so many people.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said it was “still too early to tell” if the current lockdown will have the “consistent effect” that is needed.

In a blog post calling for the NHS to be protected, he added: “There is a real risk that in our desire to celebrate Christmas, we swap a few days of celebration for the misery of a full third wave a few weeks later.”

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Meanwhile, Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which advises the Government, said there was reason for optimism that the national lockdown in England will have pushed Covid case numbers to a low level before Christmas.

He told Today there was “encouraging evidence coming from the north-west of England” with “a plateauing of cases in the community and a slight downturn in cases coming into hospital”.

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