CHRISTMAS has become quite the talking point on North-East the streets and in Government, with everyone split over what Covid restrictions should be in place. 

The Prime Minister is yet to reveal his plan for Christmas and what measures will in place as he attempts to strike a balance between festivities and safety.

While Matt Hancock has insisted social distancing must be maintained, easing of other restrictions may lead to a third coronavirus spike and subsequent lockdown in the new year. 

But some shoppers in Durham city centre said extra lockdown days in January would be worth if it meant some freedom to socialise at Christmas.

Construction director Johnny Harrison, 39, from Bishop Auckland, was certain that offering the public a brief window in the restrictions would give the country a boost.

He said: “I think it is important that families do get together over Christmas.

“A lot of people are struggling and I think they need that little bit of comfort, be it two or three days, even a day. It is important for people’s mental health and wellbeing.”

Pensioner Christine Griffiths, who was out shopping in a mask, agreed that sacrificing time in January would be worth it if rules around Christmas were relaxed.

“That’s fine,” she said. “I think it’s a good idea. As long as we can be with our family at Christmas, then I’m certainly in favour of tightening restrictions afterwards.”

Student Tenaya Cooper did not agree with relaxing the rules if it meant a longer lockdown, and even longer not being able to see loved-ones for the sake of Christmas Day.

“I would rather have a month of seeing my gran than a day and then not be able to see her for ages,” she said.

She would prefer to continue the measures with the view to making 2021 better for everyone.

Downing Street said plans for the replacement for England’s lockdown measures and proposals to ease restrictions over Christmas would be set out next week, but here is everything we know so far: 

  • What will happen on December 2?

While there is said to be “significant easing” of rules next month, a Tiered system is expected across England's regions. 

However, Public Health England director, Dr Susan Hopkins, who advises on the Government’s coronavirus response, said Tier 1 restrictions had “very little effect”, Tier 2 varied across areas and Tier 3, especially “Tier 3 plus”, reduced case numbers in the North West - meaning a rethink was needed.

The new tier system would be “similar” to what came before, while the Government would like to see “greater consistency” within the new tiers. This could include a Tier 4.

It is not clear how tiers will work around Christmas but a No 10 spokesman said Covid numbers will be in constant review until after this date when more decisions will be made. 

  • Will I be able to hug my family at Christmas?

Matt Hancock has appeared to rule out hugging relatives and friends at Christmas when speaking on Times Radio this morning, November 20, as he said there are “promising signs” the current lockdown in England is working.

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

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

  • Can I travel to visit my family?

Wales’s First Minister Mark Drakeford said he had held discussions with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and the first ministers of the other devolved administrations on Wednesday about a UK-wide approach to Christmas restrictions, with another meeting planned next week.

Mr Drakeford said an agreement on permitting travel across the UK during the Christmas season is “top of the list of things to agree”, even if a wider agreement is not possible.

  • What other rules will be in place at Christmas?

Mr Hancock said discussions with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are continuing with the aim of reaching agreement on how people can celebrate the festive period.

He said there is 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”.

He said it's about getting the balance right but social distancing will have to be maintained. 

  • What are the concerns around Christmas?

Scientists have suggested that every day of relaxed measures over Christmas would require five days of tougher measures to compensate for the risk of a coronavirus spike.

The recommendation for five days of tougher measures is understood to be preliminary findings from unpublished modelling for the Sage scientific advisory panel.

The No 10 spokesman pointed to Boris Johnson’s view that “whilst Christmas will be a little bit different from normal this year, we continue to hope to ensure that families can spend Christmas together”.

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

In a blog post calling for the NHS to be protected, he said: “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.”

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, statistician at the University of Cambridge, told Today he fears mixing at Christmas could lead to “tens of thousands” more Covid cases, requiring an extra clampdown.

“It is quite plausible that a few days of relaxing would lead to tens of thousands of more cases and that means extra deaths and measures needed to bring those under control,” he said.

A loosening of rules around Christmas may also mean bringing in restrictions again in the new year, a dilemma that has split the Government.