UK urged to ax 'rash' easing of restrictions over Christmas

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People wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus as they walk past a pub in Soho, London, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. London and its surrounding areas will be placed under Britain's highest level of coronavirus restrictions beginning Wednesday as infections rise rapidly in the capital, the health secretary said Monday, adding that a new variant of the virus may be to blame for the spread. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

LONDON – The four nations of the United Kingdom faced mounting calls Tuesday to scrap. or at least limit, a planned easing of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas following a spike in new infections.

Talks between leaders from across the U.K. over the planned easing are set to resume on Wednesday, a day that will see London and some surrounding areas join other parts of Britain in facing much more stringent restrictions.

Michael Gove, one of the most senior members in the British government, which sets public health policy for England, held talks Tuesday with leaders from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Though no change of plan was announced, further discussions are set to take place on Wednesday.

The pressure on them to ditch the scheduled five-day easing — which would allow three households to form a so-called bubble in and out of the home — ratcheted higher through the day, with concerns voiced from across the political spectrum.

Perhaps loudest was a joint editorial from two of the country's leading medical journals. In only their second joint editorial in their more than 100-year histories, the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal urged a rethink of a “rash” decision that they said will “cost many lives.”

“We are publishing it because we believe the government is about to blunder into another major error,” they said.

Britain's Conservative government, along with the devolved administrations, 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.

But with new infections rising in many parts of the country, there are growing concerns that the government's Christmas relaxation will see a further escalation in infections and deaths and put too much pressure on the already-stressed National Health Service.