It's not a target: UK rows back on Christmas easing advice

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A man wears a face mask as she skates past a closed pub in Soho, in London, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. London and some of its surrounding areas will be placed under Britain's highest level of coronavirus restrictions beginning at 00:01 local time on today as infections rise rapidly in the capital. Under Tier 3 restrictions, the toughest level in England's three-tier system, people can't socialize indoors, and bars, pubs and restaurants must close except for takeout.(AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

LONDON – No need to take it to the max.

That's the new Christmas message that leaders of the U.K.'s four nations were spreading Wednesday, after toughening up their advice over what people should do during the holiday period.

Last month, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland agreed to permit a maximum of three households to mix between Dec. 23 and Dec. 27, regardless of what local restrictions are in place.

But following a sharp spike in new infections — another 25,161 were recorded Wednesday, the highest since Nov. 14 — families are being urged to consider the rules as the outer limits of what they can do.

“Have yourselves a merry little Christmas and, I’m afraid, this year I do mean little,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a press briefing. “I want to stress these are maximums, not targets.”

His comments echoed those of other leaders elsewhere, though Wales said it will legislate to limit bubbles to two households.

Johnson said it would be “inhuman” to ban Christmas but that in light of the “worrying” rises in new infections in some parts of the country, people should think hard about what to do. He said anyone planning to meet others during the easing should start limiting contacts from this Friday, for example.

Professor Chris Whitty, the government's chief medical officer, said the advice was akin to driving at the speed limit in icy conditions.