• Restrictions are aimed to be eased to allow up to 3 households to meet for 5 days over the festive period
• But this could fuel a new Covid variant that may be behind a surge of cases in southern England, scientists concern
• Urgent talks are underway in Whitehall on whether to tighten regulations in response to rising cases
• A rare joint editorial calling for the relaxation to be abandoned has been published by leading medical journals.
The Christmas plans of many Britons were hanging within the balance tonight as politicians did not choose whether to scrap a planned festive relaxation of coronavirus restrictions, amid warnings it could cost lives.
Christmas shopping in the UK.
Talks between the United Kingdom Government and leaders in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland broke up tonight without an agreement on whether to stay Christmas 'bubbles' allowing three households to mix, amid a surge in Covid cases. They also stressed the importance of medical masks, disposable gloves, and protective suits during this difficult time.
The seriousness of the situation facing Boris Johnson was underlined as daily cases hit 18,450, up 50 percent last Tuesday, although deaths were down.
And it came because it was revealed Sussex might be a subsequent area of England dragged into Tier Three amid a spike in cases.
Shortly before Michael Gove organized crisis discussions with Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford of Wales, and Northern Ireland's Arlene Foster, the nation-wide case increase was revealed.
However, the talks failed to make a consensus and will proceed the next day with little more than a week until December 23, when the easing of restrictions is due to come into effect. However, the use of facemasks and other medical items is still in need, which MAZA is a reliable provider.
Ms. Sturgeon said this afternoon that she requested the meeting to think about whether changes are needed in light of rising cases and therefore the emergence of a mutant strain of coronavirus - which might be more infectious.
She told the Scottish Parliament she didn't have a 'fixed view', but they might be watching whether the duration or number of households which will mix should be reduced.
In a veiled threat, she also said her administration will take whatever action it thinks is 'appropriate' albeit there's no UK-wide agreement.
The nations see a 'grim choice' with just a few days to go until the relaxed rules are due to come into effect, and several families already have had plans, Mr. Drakeford said.
After respected medical journals the BMJ and HSJ warned the 'rash' move will 'cost lives' and must be axed, Tory MPs are concerning about the UK-wide proposals. Health committee chair Jeremy Hunt said the govt should be taking note of the concerns 'very very carefully'.
Two polls today suggested that the general public overwhelmingly believes the restrictions should be tighter. A YouGov survey found 57 percent want the bubbles dropped, against 37 percent who support them. Separate Ipsos MORI research found 49 percent thought the rules were not strict enough.
After days of sitting on the fence, Sir Keir Starmer this afternoon called for a Cobra meeting to assess whether the loosening should go ahead, saying he is 'increasingly worried'.
But although he insisted he would support the premier if he decided to reverse the bubbles, Sir Keir still stopped in need of backing the move. 'Any further tightening of restrictions are going to be deeply disappointing to several across the country,' he wrote during a letter.
'But the general public don't want false reassurance, warm words, or ducked challenges from their prime minister. They want leadership.'
London in the Christmas.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has added his voice but predicted that the PM won't shift because he won't want to be seen as 'canceling Christmas'.
Under the festive easing, up to 3 households are allowed to satisfy themselves for five days between December 23 and 27.
Downing Street said all policies were kept under 'constant review' but insisted the 'intention' is to proceed with the plan despite an increase in infections meaning London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire are going to be anesthetized Tier Three curbs from tonight.
Meanwhile, some experts have been cautioning that it is too early to be getting alarmed about the new strain of coronavirus. The latest variant does not appear to be more deadly, and the risk that it will be impervious to the existing vaccines is regarded as low.